At one of the top junior college programs in the country, baseball comes second to academics.
Western Nevada College once again made the National Junior College Athletic Associationâ€™s list of All-Academic Teams for the 2013-14 school year.
Wildcats coach D.J. Whittemore said that players learn before they arrive at WNC that their academic success is more important than what they accomplish on the diamond.
â€œWestern Nevada College’s entire athletic department is rooted in the fundamental belief that these athletes are first and foremost students,â€ Whittemore said. â€œOur players understand from the moment they are recruited that academic excellence is not optional. We have had and continue to have excellent leadership among the sophomores that creat the environment that says, â€˜It’s cool to dominate the classroom and the playing field,â€™â€
Led by NJCAA Academic Student-Athlete Award winners Connor Klein, Jeremy Alderman, Joseph Crunkilton and Jacob Bennett, the Wildcatsâ€™ collective 3.27 grade point average ranked 11th in the country for baseball teams.
â€œThree of the four were named all-region as well. It’s no coincidence that academics carries over to great performance as a team and individually,â€ Whittemore said. â€œBaseball is a thinking manâ€™s game, so naturally we want intelligent players.â€
The Wildcatsâ€™ GPA was the highest of any college in the Scenic West Athletic Conference. Salt Lake (3.05) was the only other SWAC baseball team to receive the honor.
“I am very impressed by the commitment of coach Whittemore and his staff to the educational success of his baseball players,” said John Kinkella, WNC’s dean of student services and director of intercollegiate athletics. “In addition to a very rigorous spring travel schedule, the baseball team was traveling to a District Tournament the week of finals. Congratulations to the players and coaches on a job very well done!”
Teams needed at least a combined 3.0 GPA for its entire roster to earn the NJCAA academic distinction.
Klein, a sophomore infielder, topped the Wildcats with a 3.98 GPA, earning superior academic achievement. Interestingly, Kleinâ€™s older brother, Brooks, achieved an identical 3.98 GPA during his sophomore season at WNC in 2011.
The younger Klein just narrowly missed joining the 171 student-athletes nationally who produced 4.0 GPAs.
The NJCAA recognized Bennett, a freshman outfielder, with superior academic achievement, for his 3.82 GPA. Relief pitcher Alderman and outfielder Crunkilton received exemplary academic achievement honors for their 3.68 and 3.67 GPAs, respectively.
Never mind that the Wildcats played 36 of their 58 games on the road, travelling as far as Douglas, Ariz. (968 miles one way) Tucson, Ariz. (849 miles), Rangely, Colo. (751 miles) and Phoenix (728 miles).
â€œOur team deserves high praise for their willingness to overcome the difficulties of a college baseball season that in our case covered 40,000 miles of travel over 3-plus months,â€ Whittemore said. â€œThey deserve to call themselves champions just as much for winning the Region XVIII title as being named spring academic team of the year!â€
The NJCAA has been recognizing student-athlete success since 1983. Only 3.08 percent of NJCAA student-athletes (1,799) earned individual academic honors.