By NEMCC Media Relations
BOONEVILLE – Christmas has come early for the Northeast Mississippi Community College softball program.
After being named a Top 5 2012 National Fast-Pitch Coaches’ Association (NFCA) All-Academic Team in October, the NFCA honored 10 current and former Lady Tiger softball players with NFCA All-America Scholar Athlete awards when the national organization released its comprehensive list on Thursday, December 6.
Northeast, which finished as the Mississippi Association of Community/Junior Colleges (MACJC) State runner-up and third in the NationalJunior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region XXIII Tournament in 2011-12, led the nation for individuals in the junior/community college’s division II class.
Only one other junior/community college had more playersselected to the national list than the Lady Tiger softball with Wallace State-Hanceville (division I) seeing 12 athletes honored.
Northeast was also tied for the lead in the state of Mississippi across all collegiate classes with the Lady Tigers tying Vann Stuedeman’s Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs with 10 selections to the 2012 NFCA All-America Scholar Athlete list.
“Two years ago, we kind of struggled and we set out in our recruiting efforts to sign not only the best athletes but the best kids we could,” said Northeast head softball coach Jody Long. “For our kids to continue to receive awards after they have moved on; it is just a testament to how hard those kids worked off the field as well as on the field.”
For the Lady Tigers, a quartet of Booneville natives led the way on the NFCA All-America Scholar Athlete award list.
Raleigh Downs, Hannah Hastings, Madeline Hickman and Nicki Whitten were all selected to the national list when all four wrapped up their Lady Tiger careers with grade point averages above 3.75 during their second year.
A pair of Kossuth and West Union duos also headlined thelist with Kossuth’s Haley Knepp and Kelsie Follin along with West Union’s Claire Wilkerson and Kimberly Jumper making the cut.
Current Lady Tiger infielder Ellen Tarrant of New Albany and Hamilton’s Katie Beth Dahlem rounded out the 10 selections for Northeast.
“Nine of those kids are homegrown in our five-county area,” Long pointed out. “With the state being wide-open now, we may not see an accomplishment like that again. To have 10 of our kids recognized for 3.5 grade point averages and above, it is continued proof of what we are trying to dohere at Northeast.”
The National Fast-Pitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-America Scholar Athlete award is bestowed on any submitted player that has a 3.50 grade point average or higher during the 2011-12 academic year.
However, the 10 individual selections come on the heels of a Top 5 selection as a team earlier in the year.
In October, the NFCA honored the Lady Tiger softball team as being one of the top teams in the country when it came to overall team grade point average.
Long’s Lady Tigers were fifth in the nation with a cumulative grade point average of 3.37.
“We focus on a high graduation rate. We had 10 of our 11 eligible sophomores to graduate last year,” explained Coach Long. “This was an outstanding group of young ladies that worked extremely hard both on and off the field and represented NEMCC with outstanding integrity.”
Along with its lofty ranking, Northeast’s softball program led the MACJC in the NFCA ranking with Holmes Community College coming in as the twelfth-best in the nation with a 3.26 team grade point average.
Only Illinois Central College (3.531), Wallace State Community College (3.480), Indian Hills Community College (3.440) and Shelton State Community College (3.390) were ranked higher than the Lady Tigers in the National Fast-Pitch Coaches Association’s junior college rankings.
“We expect our players to excel both on and off the field,” Long said. “These young ladies set goals and did what it took to obtain them. This is what we expect from the kids in our program.”
Earlier in the year, the softball program was recognized by the NJCAA as the thirteenth best program in the nation as it pertains to team grade point average.
Along with being ranked thirteenth in the nation, Northeast was first in the Mississippi Association of Community & Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division along with placing third overall in the state.