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4 Matador Athletics’ squads place on NJCAA Academic All-American Team list
Jim Howell
Jul. 22nd, 2013

3-time winner Matador Volleyball joined by men’s & women’s basketball, men’s soccer on 2013 list

Yuma, Arizona – July 22, 2013 – Arizona Western College is proud to announce that four of the school’s eight athletic teams have earned a spot on the NJCAA Academic All-American Teams list. Two women’s teams head the list, with the Lady Matador Women’s Basketball team leading the way, followed by the team that made the list for the third consecutive year, Lady Matador Volleyball. They’re followed closely by a pair of men’s teams at AWC: Matador Men’s Basketball and-for the first time ever-Matador Men’s Soccer. The teams each achieved the prestigious academic honor for the 2012-13 academic year by finishing the year with a cumulative team grade point average of 3.0 for their student-athletes. The announcements comes just less than a month prior to the student-athletes’ return to the classrooms on the AWC campus for the start of the 2013-14 fall semester.

The AWC Women’s Basketball team made a triumphant return to this list this year for the first time since it was a back-to-back recipient of this award in 2008 & 2009. However, the 2012-13 team blew away the cumulative GPAs of the previous two squads, accumulating an impressive 3.23 cumulative grade point average among its 10 student-athletes. Half of Patrick Cunningham’s squad made the AWC Dean’s List (achieving at least a 3.5 cumulative GPA for a semester) in at least one of the two semesters last year, with sophomore forward Kiah (KEE-yuh) Brown achieving that honor in both the fall and spring semesters. Brown was one of the main leaders on the roster academically with a 3.63 cumulative GPA over her two years, and also was named as an NJCAA Academic All-American. Putting herself in line for that same honor at this time next year was freshman starting point guard Jacy Pagala (JAY-see puh-GAH-luh), who achieved a perfect 4.0 cumulative GPA in her first semester as a collegian during the fall, and finished tops on the roster for the year with a 3.69 cumulative GPA. Starting guard Imari Lyons (ih-MAHR-ree LYE-yunns) reached the Dean’s List during the spring semester, capping off her cumulative GPA for the year at 3.36. Those three were also joined above the tier of 3.0 by Yuma native Brontee (brahn-TEE) Simpson (3.28), Nikki Villescaz (bee-YESS-cuss) (3.27), Nicole Fountain (3.14) and Jazmin Strane (JAZZ-minn STRAIN) (3.03).

Meanwhile, it’s becoming a broken record for the AWC Volleyball squad, since this is the third straight year that they’ve achieved this honor. It also keeps AWC Head Volleyball Coach Jason Smith’s record perfect for NJCAA All-Academic teams under his tutelage at the school, since Smith’s 2007 & 2008 teams (during his first tour of duty at Arizona Western) also earned the same distinction. It wasn’t hard to figure out who led the way this year in getting the Lady Matadors to this level, since a pair of freshmen, middle blocker Taylor Price and setter Rachel Rutherford, achieved perfect 4.0 cumulative GPAs for both the fall and spring semesters (completing 36 & 35 credits, respectively). Joining them on the Spring Dean’s List was sophomore opposite Polina Severina (poh-LEE-nuh SEH-vuhr-ih-nuh). Overall, eight of the 12 Lady Matadors achieved cumulative GPAs over 3.0 for the year, including Kylee Chun (3.46), Amber Graham (3.44), Severina (3.33), Paula Rosa (3.1), Auri (OW-dee) Diaz (3.08) and Carolyn Sosa (3.03) following Price & Rutherford.

Joining the list for the first time in the Charles Harral Era is the AWC Men’s Basketball, finishing with a cumulative 3.07 grade point average. Like the volleyball team, a pair of men’s basketball student-athletes paced the way for the team as redshirt freshman Wade Shugrue (shuh-GREW) kept his two-year college academic slate perfect with an incredible 4.0 GPA for all 54 credits-including 29 this season; and sophomore transfer Tanner Clayton hit the 4.0 plateau for his 18 fall credits, finishing his second year of college with a stellar 3.93 cumulative GPA. Both achieved NJCAA Distinguished All-American status for their efforts. Two other student-athletes joined Shugrue and Clayton on the AWC Dean’s List this past year, with freshman guard Anthony Alston (spring) and sophomore center/forward Carlos Perez (fall) using that accomplishment to achieve cumulative GPAs for the year of 3.37 and 3.22, respectively. Also exceeding the 3.0 cumulative GPA mark were forward Denocchio (deh-NOH-kee-OH) Pierce (3.06) and redshirt Daniel Santana (3.05).

Finally, the historic success on the field of the AWC Men’s Soccer team is now rivaled by what Kenny Dale’s squad did in the classroom this past year, achieving a cumulative 3.06 GPA for 2012-13. Like their play on the field, their ability to earn this award is based on their balance, since eight different Matador Soccer student-athletes made the AWC Dean’s List for at least one semester, with freshman midfielders Julio Castillo & Jaime Verdin (HYE-may behr-DEEN) as well as sophomore goalkeeper Oscar Hernandez hitting the list in both the fall and the spring. Like Shugrue, Hernandez was a perfect 4.0 for both of his 2012-13 semesters, finishing his two-year academic career with a 3.96 cumulative GPA and as an NJCAA Distinguished All-American. Not far behind him, though, were Castillo (3.77), defender Jorge Valdez (3.61), Verdin (3.55), midfielder Oscar Gonzalez (3.37), defenders Bryan Portillo (por-TEE-yoh) (3.36), Jesus Silva (heh-SOOS SEEL-bah) (3.28) and Jordan Burns (3.2); midfielders Arturo Valle (ahr-TOO-roh BYE-yeh) (3.08), Bryan Orta (3.05) and Eti Tavares (3.03); and forward Jordan Evans (3.03).

As the student-athletes from all nine sports (including women’s soccer, which began its program this past March) converge on the AWC campus for the start of fall classes in a month or so, the head of the athletic department hopes the academic performances of the past year will continue to inspire going forward. “This past year was the best we’ve had academically since I’ve been here, since our entire department nearly hit the 3.0 mark across the board,” said AWC Athletic Director Jerry Smith. “Having our program achieve a 2.96 cumulative mark is incredible, and it’s a great testament to the dedication of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and administration. Of course, we’ve extremely proud with what all four of the teams on this list achieved on the playing surface (each made the Region I Playoffs, with the volleyball team winning the Region I Championship), but even more proud that they’ve achieved these academic honors.”



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