Hitting the court and the books
JCCC head women’s basketball coach Ben Conrad arrived on campus four seasons ago and has elevated the program to new heights. He has guided his teams to three consecutive 30-win seasons and three NJCAA D-II tournament appearances. Off the court, his teams have experienced similar success.
In 2009-10, Conrad’s first season, 75 percent of his roster recorded a 3.0 grade point average or better on a 4-point scale. Last year, 67 percent reached that standard, and this past fall, 79 percent posted grade points above 3.0. Conrad believes the two go hand-in-hand.
“Success breeds success, period,” Conrad said. “People who achieve in the classroom are usually people who achieve in other areas. We do emphasize academic achievement in our program, and we’ve implemented a very successful study table and mentoring program for our student-athletes.
“We also recruit kids that are a good fit for JCCC,” he said. “We get great kids that are willing to work in the classroom. We try to create a culture in our program that values academic success and achievement.”
Sophomore guards Amy Briggs and Mary Pat Specht have been part of the most successful two-year run in JCCC women’s basketball history, winning 64 games and two district titles. They also had a top-10 national tournament appearance, were ranked No. 1 in the final poll twice and completed an undefeated conference season this year.
Individually, both players will leave their mark in the history books for 3-point accuracy, and each received All-America honors by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.
However, while both agree that the team and individual accomplishments are important, their main focus and drive to succeed comes in the classroom.
“Academics are important,” Briggs said. “This is what I am here for because someday my basketball career will over.”
Their hard work in the classroom will be rewarded this June when they will be honored as NJCAA Academic All-Americans. Both could receive the NJCAA Pinnacle Award for Academic Excellence, given to student-athletes producing a 4.0 grade point average.
“Academics have also been important to me,” Specht said. “I have always placed a high priority to get high grades.”
Participating in a collegiate sport at any level is extremely demanding. It takes a special athlete to be able to juggle the demands of a sport while maintaining high academic standards.
Sophomore Brianna Kulas, a transfer this year from Kansas State University and an academic award winner for the Lady Cavaliers, says playing at JCCC and K-State are similar; it is a matter of staying organized and being responsible.
Conrad says the reason they are successful students is because they avoid trivial distractions.
“They are focused on the task at hand,” Conrad said. “They also have tremendous work habits, which comes from their upbringing, not from anything we’ve done with them.”
Briggs says it is tough being a student-athlete because so much time is put into practices and film study in addition to going to school.
“Playing basketball is time consuming and tiring, but it’s worth it,” Briggs said.