Athens Review, Athens, Texas

April 16, 2014

JUNIOR COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NJCAA names Lovato Coach of the Year, Bulgak Player of the Year

Joe Elerson
The Athens Review

Athens — The NJCAA national office announced the 2013-14 Spalding® NJCAA Women’s Basketball Players and Coaches of the Year Tuesday.

Trinity Valley (Texas) sophomore forward Adut Bulgak, Mesa (Ariz.) sophomore guard Peace Amukamara and Northland (Minn.) sophomore center Sarah Durand received Player of the Year honors. This season’s Coach of the Year awards went to Elena Lovato of Trinity Valley, Kori Stephenson of Mesa and Shannon Nelson of Northland. Selections were made by each division’s respective sports committee.

NJCAA Division I Player of the Year

Adut Bulgak — Trinity Valley (Forward / Soph.)

In the illustrious history of Trinity Valley women’s basketball, few players have had as big an impact on the Cardinals as Adut Bulgak did in 2013-14. Leading the Cardinals to a 36-1 record and an unprecedented third straight NJCAA DI Women’s Basketball national championship, Bulgak’s shooting range and presence inside the paint made her virtually unstoppable this season. The sophomore forward averaged 15.9 points per game on the year and made 233 field goal attempts — 8th most in the country. Averaging a double-double for the season, Bulgak also ranked 11th in the nation with 11.5 rebounds per game. Defensively, she ranked 13th in the land with 2.4 blocks per game. In this year’s national tournament, the Canadian recorded three double-doubles in four games and was named Tournament MVP. Although Bulgak is still undecided on where she will continue her collegiate career, but is considering Purdue, Florida State, Oklahoma State, Cal and Texas.

NJCAA Division I Coach of the Year

Elena Lovato — Trinity Valley (2nd Season)

Carrying on the winning tradition of Trinity Valley women’s basketball, Lovato has established a new era in the program’s history in only her second season. After guiding the Cardinals to a national championship in her first year at the helm, Lovato repeated the feat this year by leading Trinity Valley to their third straight national title — a first in the history of NJCAA basketball. Following this season’s 36-1 finish, Lovato now boasts a record of 113-8 since the 2009-10 season with the Cardinals and has yet to lose a game in the spring. Prior to arriving in Athens, Texas, as a head coach in 2012, Lovato was a Cardinals assistant in the 2009-10 season before being promoted to interim head coach for the final 11 games. Following that season, Lovato earned the head coaching job at Grayson (Texas) before moving on to NCAA program Nebraska-Omaha as an assistant. She also served as an assistant at Houston and Pittsburg State following a successful career as a high school coach in Missouri and New Mexico.

NJCAA Division II Player of the Year

Peace Amukamara — Mesa (Guard / Soph.)

Peace Amukamara’s exceptional play during the 2013-14 season propelled Mesa to their first NJCAA DII Women’s Basketball national championship in program history. Leading the Thunderbirds in scoring, Amukamara averaged a team-high 14.1 points per game during her sophomore campaign. The guard’s well-rounded talents were also reflected in her 5.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.2 steals per game on the year. In the first DII women’s basketball title game to reach overtime since 1995, Amukamara led Mesa to an 82-72 win over Highland (Kan.) behind a double-double effort. She posted a career-high 28 points to go along with 11 rebounds. In an 85-73 win over North Iowa Area in the semifinals, Amukamara recorded the first triple-double of her collegiate career with 23 points, 10 assists and a career-high 13 rebounds. In January, Amukumara decided to continue her college basketball career next season at Arizona State.

NJCAA Division II Coach of the Year

Kori Stephenson — Mesa (7th Season)

Kori Stephenson’s administration of the Mesa women’s basketball program reached new heights in 2013-14 when she directed the Thunderbirds to their first NJCAA DII Women’s Basketball national championship. The Thunderbirds compiled a school-record 28 wins — clinching their sixth straight 20-win season — en route to the national crown. Entering the national tournament as the No. 4 seed, Mesa knocked off top-seeded North Iowa Area 85-73 in the semifinals before defeating No. 2 seed Highland (Kan.) 82-72 in overtime of the championship game. The Thunderbirds are the first women’s basketball team from Arizona to win the DII title. Stephenson began her tenure at Mesa in 1999 when she was hired as an assistant coach after graduating from South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. While at SDSMT, Stephenson earned NAIA first-team All-America honors and became the program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,934 points during her career.

NJCAA Division III Player of the Year

Sarah Durand — Northland (Center / Soph.)

Following a dominant freshman season at Northland, Sarah Durand’s improvement in the offseason paid dividends as she led the Pioneers to a 27-1 record and the program’s first NJCAA DIII Women’s Basketball national championship. Leading the team in scoring and rebounding, Durand averaged 23.5 points — sixth most in DIII — and 9.9 rebounds per game this season. In the national title game, Durand’s double-double — 14 points and 14 rebounds — led Northland to a 69-60 win over defending national champion and top-seeded Rock Valley (Ill.). The center’s best performance of the season came in a 78-54 win over DI opponent Bismarck State where she recorded a double-double with a career-high 40 points and 11 rebounds. Looking to continue her college basketball career at the four-year level, Durand is considering moving on to NCAA DII programs Bemidji State, Moorhead State or NAIA DII program Mayville State.

NJCAA Division III Coach of the Year

Shannon Nelson — Northland (4th Season)

Despite entering the NJCAA DIII Women’s Basketball National Championship as the No. 7 seed, Shannon Nelson’s Northland Pioneers defeated the top three seeds in three days to win their first national title. The Pioneers defeated No. 2-seed Onondaga 58-57 in the quarterfinals and followed up with a 77-72 win over No. 3 se1ed Anoka-Ramsey (Minn.). Nelson’s squad capped off their run with a 69-60 victory over top-seeded defending national champion Rock Valley (Ill.). Northland won their final 22 games of the season to finish with a 27-1 overall record. After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2006, Nelson was hired by Northland as an academic coordinator. She was later named women’s basketball head coach in 2010. While at Minnesota, Nelson was a two-year captain for the Golden Gophers and was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive team in her junior and senior seasons. Nelson led Minnesota to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and a Final Four in 2004.