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NMJC athletes honored at awards luncheon

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Peter Stein/News-Sun

After a good year, a normal year, for New Mexico Junior College, it was time to celebrate.

NMJC held its awards banquet last Sunday at the Lea County Events Center, honoring their athletes from the 2021-22 season, but also celebrating the first Thunderbirds’ athletic school year not ruined by COVID in three years.

There were no 2020 spring sports for NMJC. No 2020-21 sports, except for some track & field.

Finally, Thunderbird sports returned for a full 2021-22 slate.

“It was like we never missed a beat,” NMJC athletic director Deron Clark said. “We tried to follow (Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s) guidelines, and it had implications in the world of athletics for sure. … They were dark days, man.”

NMJC lost recently recruited basketball and volleyball players to other schools. “We loaned them out, if you will,” Clark said, “but when their freshman years were over, they came back to us because they said they would.”

Sunday was a celebration of that, essentially, a celebration of dedication. NMJC athletes, whether they left temporarily or not, showed dedication over the course of 2021-22 – with successful results.

Awarded for that last Sunday were:

• sophomore runner Maria Simanca, who was named NMJC’sFemale Athlete of the Year

• freshman golfer Matthis Lefévre, who was awarded Thunderbirds Male Athlete of the Year

• freshman runner Purity Kattam, who was selected as the female winner of the Steve McCleery Academic Award

• freshman runner Purity Kattam, who was selected as the female winner of the Steve McCleery Academic Award

• freshman baseball players Kade Benavidez and Thomas Schreck, who earned co-male winners of the McCleery Award

• Benavidez again, who was chosen as the winner of the Dutch Klein Award, for his overall contributions to NMJC, including community service

Named for Klein, a philanthropist for NMJC and Lea County, the award given Benavidez is “the highest recognized award that our department honors,” Clark said.

“It’s probably more of a service award, to be honest, than it is an athletic award,” Clark added. “And even though Kade has been successful on the baseball field for us, his service for not only Lea County, but back in Las Cruces where he’s from, is just a testament to what he’s like. He is top, top shelf.”

Benavidez shared the McCleery Award for male NMJC athlete with Schreck because of their matching 3.94 grade point averages. Benavidez is on pace to take his baseball talents and academic excellence to New Mexico State University, right back in his home town of Las Cruces, where his mother was a school superintendent. Schreck is on track to transfer his baseball and academic skills to West Point, where he will play for the Army team while preparing to serve his country.

Kattam’s 3.81 GPA has her on pace to study nursing at a four-year school, but she isn’t sure which one yet, according to Clark. Kattam runs both cross-country and track for NMJC, and on the subject of the latter, she has qualified for outdoor nationals in the steeplechase.

The female athlete of the year, Simanca may have taken the most strides of any recent NMJC athlete since her arrival.

“She came in here from Venezuela,” Clark said, “had very, very limited English skills, and she’s overcome that limitation. She has given herself an opportunity to transfer to Wayland Baptist (University in Plainview, Texas). “And she has elevated her skills for NMJC for so many things. She’s running relays, she’s running 600-meter dashes. She’s run cross-country for us at times. She is just a versatile person. And she has only gone home once during the time she has been on campus. We’re excited to see where her skills take her.”

Lefévre – from Hossegor, France – has impacted the NMJC golf program in a short time, posting five individual match victories.

“Man, first of all, you know how difficult that sport is to win week after week after week,” Clark said. “For him to win five times individually since he’s been with us is impressive. And he’s put himself in position to win a national championship next week in Odessa. A great young mind, outgoing, an enlightened person to be around, an elite performer.”

And he’s only a freshman. “When he shows up in August and already knows what’s expected of him,” Clark said, “I’m excited about where that’s going to go.”

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