LA JUNTA — The 2011-2012 basketball season will be a season to remember for the Otero Junior College Lady Rattlers. While still enjoying the tremendous success of winning their first Region IX championship, finishing #8 in the nation at the National Tournament and posting the most successful season in the program’s history, with a record of 33-3, the Lady Rattlers recently learned that they had been awarded the Sportsmanship Award at the NJCAA National Tournament.
“The award was not announced at the National Tournament,” said Head Coach Taylor Wagner, “so we were completely surprised last week when we got the call and the plaque arrived on campus. What a great honor this is for our team. This team has always conducted itself with class and those of us close to the team recognize that fact, but to have their sportsmanship recognized by others at the National Tournament is an outstanding accomplishment,” said Wagner.
The Alberta Lee Cox Sportsmanship Award is voted on by the tournament staff and the referees. Alberta Lee Cox was the first woman to coach a U.S. Olympic team sport and the first woman to coach a U.S. women’s basketball team on foreign soil. This award is given on her behalf at the NJCAA National Women’s Tournament to the team that has shown exemplary and outstanding sportsmanship skills throughout the championship tournament.
In addition to the women’s team award, during the men’s tournament, Brandon Harris, a 6’1” guard from Oklahoma City, Okla. (North West Classen High School) was awarded the men’s tournament individual Sportsmanship Award.
Jim Rizzuto, president of Otero Junior College, attended the National Tournaments, held March 20-24 in Kansas. Reflecting on the experience, Rizzuto said that the college and community can be proud of how OJC’s student athletes represented them at the tournaments.
“The sportsmanship awards that the women’s team and Brandon Harris brought home are without a doubt well-deserved,” said Rizzuto. “I have never known a group of student athletes who exemplified sportsmanship like this year’s teams did. They play and study hard and they do it with the utmost of class and dignity. We congratulate the members of the teams and their coaches for truly epitomizing what is good about collegiate athletics,” said Rizzuto.
The road to the National Tournaments began with the OJC men’s and women’s basketball teams each winning Region IX Championships, thus qualifying them for their respective National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) tournaments. The tournaments were held March 20-24. The men’s tournament was played in Hutchinson, Kan.; the women’s tournament was played in Salina, Kan.
While it was the first time the Lady Rattlers had ever been to the national tournament, archived records show that the Rattler men had made a tournament appearance in 1953 when the college was known as La Junta Junior College.
The women’s and men’s teams both finished their seasons by setting new school records for most wins. The women’s new record now stands at 33-3 and the men’s new record is 30-6. The women’s team is coached by seventh-year Head Coach Taylor Wagner and assisted by Alex Snyder. The men’s team is coached by sixth-year Head Coach Houston Reed and assisted by Brendan O’Connor.