Despite having to deal with some late season issues, the New Mexico Junior college women's basketball team had a good year last year. The Lady Thunderbirds went 10-4 in Western Junior College Athletic conference play and finished third in conference. Overall, the Lady T-Birds were 21-7.
At one point, the Lady T-Birds knocked off the No. 1 team in the nation. But everything changed after the first of the year when a clerical error came back to bite the team. Still, NMJC head coach Drew Sanders said the team continued to go out and do its job, and that mad the coach happy.
"The thing that we are going to remember most is how the girls responded at the end (of the season)," Sanders said. "We won our last four games, We lost the one game right after the sanctions came out and felt like we played poorly and I feel like that might have had something to do with the loss. But, then they came back and won the next four and the last game they played really well.
"Somethimes, like is going to throw you some things that you are not comfortable with and some adversity," the coach continued. "How you handle adversity actually determines how successful you really become. They handled the adversity and that is probably the biggest thing and proudest thing I will be of this team."
Now, with their careers over at NMJC, the Lady T-Birds will be heading off to the next step in continuing not only their basketball careers, but also their educations.
New Mexico Junior College had eight sophomores on its roster and seven of them, as well as one redshirt freshman, are graduating. Additionally, they are all moving on to bigger institutions. Of the eight, six of them have signed with NCAA D-I schools while two others are going to NCAA D-II schools.
"The first thing, and most important thing for me, is that they have an opportunity to finish their education," Sanders said. "The opportunity to become lifetime citizens and productive lifetime citizens is the biggest victory a coach can have."
"The second thing is you want them to be able to play on a bigger stage, and they earned that right," Sanders continued. " they spent many hours, not only here, but before they ever got here, earning the right to go to the next level."
The Division I signees include Natalia Gwarda, Ekaterina Zhibareva, Laurynn McGowen, Daiane Machado, Alarie Mayze, and Shaniya Mitchell. The players heading to Division II recruits are Ashley Perez and Dezirae Hampton.
Gwarda will be heading to Houston Baptist while Zhibareva signed with Marshall University. Mayze, the redshirt frehman, is heading to Southern Mississippi while Mitchell, who missed the entire season with an injury, will be playing at Texas Southern University. She will be joining former NMJC teammates Nycolle smith and Camille Mills, both of whom went to Texas Southern this past year.
Then there is McGowen and Machado who both inked letters of intent to play at University of Texas at Arlington.
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"They get to learn the new campus together and learn the new people and new system together," Sanders said. "It is always easier when you can share that with somebody.When you have problems, you have somebody you are comfortable with."
"Now, the big thing, and probably the hard thing, is not to rely on that too much," the Lady T-Birds coach continued. "You have to become comfortable with your new team and the quicker you can do that, the more successful you become."
Texas A&M International University came looking for, and signed, Perez while Hampton caught the eyes of those at Angelo State University.
During her two years with NMJC, Machado scored 705 points and gradded 341 rebounds. She also helped the Lady T-Birds to the NJCAA final four her freshman season. Hampton scored 601 points and hauled in 261 rebounds while Zhibareva finished with 372 points and 241 rebounds. Perez had 209 points and Gwarda scored 121.
During her freshman year, Mitchell scored 358 points and 225 rebounds. Mayze had 206 points and 116 rebounds her one-year with the Lady T-Birds while McGowen finished with 293 points.
"The first thing I am going to miss their talent," Sanders said. "The second thing is they were good people. They were good girls and I am going to miss that and the fact that they took us to the Final Four." While the Lady T-Birds are losing half their team to graduation, it is somehting that junior college sports go through every year. Sanders said he already has several plyers lined up to come in and fill out the roster holes that the eight graduating players are leaving. Included among those ready to come take a look playing for New Mexico Junior College are a couple of players who didn't have the scores to get into University of New Mexico and New Mexico State.