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Athletes of Distinction

BJ Graber Award
2014 Betty Jo Graber Award - Bruna Evangelista
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The NJCAA national office announced Blinn (Texas) sophomore middle blocker Bruna Evangelista as the 2014 Betty Jo Graber Female Student-Athlete of the Year Wednesday.

“It is such a huge honor for me to be named the Betty Jo Graber Female Student-Athlete of the Year in the NJCAA and is a pleasure to have the chance to represent female athletes as well,” Evangelista said. “I have accomplished so much in these past two years with the help of my
team at Blinn and I also want to thank each one of them because they are the ones who have helped me in practice every day to become a better player. I am very shocked, surprised and also very excited and thankful for it.”

In 2013, Evangelista was one of the most dominant scorers in the nation. She boasted the nation’s fourth-highest hitting percentage at .415 and ranked 10th in the land with 4.03 kills per set. Evangelista also produced at the net defensively with 1.08 kills per set on the year.

At the NJCAA National Championship, Evangelista was named tournament MVP after spearheading the Buccaneers’ drive to their third national title. In four matches, she averaged
4.07 kills and 1.07 blocks per set. Evangelista saved her best effort for the championship match against Tyler (Texas) where she recorded a match-high 23 kills and four blocks.

“Bruna was a crucial part of our offense during the season and at the national tournament,” said Blinn head coach Erin Mellinger. “Her accountability and leadership is what led us to the title. She was the player we could go to if we needed a side out.”

Perhaps the most impressive performance of Evangelista’s two-year college career came in this season’s Region 14 tournament. Suffering a five-set defeat in the second round, Blinn needed three straight victories to clinch a spot at the national tournament. To make matters worse, their star player was hurt.

“The biggest challenge that I faced during my collegiate career at Blinn was when we were
playing our Region 14 tournament,” Evangelista said. “We had to win three games to qualify for
the National Championship and I had some very painful injuries at that time, but the support that
I had from our coaching staff and my teammates made my pain go away. I had to sit down sometimes and I cried a lot because of the pain, but I knew I had to continue. From that
experience, I've learned that there is no pain when the focus is our success.”

Showcasing her abilities as a freshman, Evangelista led the Buccaneers with 3.12 kills and 1.03 blocks per set in 2012. Despite the impressive statistics in her first season, Blinn failed to advance out of the Region 14 tournament. With the help from her coaching staff in the offseason, Evangelista became a more efficient player and developed into a leader for the 2013 campaign.

“I am very thankful for everything that the coaching staff at Blinn has helped me with,” Evangelista said. “All the support, all the help. They are such great people and I thank each one of them for taking care of me for the past two years. On the court or even outside, they have been very special to me and I am very grateful for everything that they have done for me, not only volleyball wise but with life lessons and helping me to be a better volleyball player. The things that Coach Erin and Coach Maina (Heming) taught me have shaped me into the person I am today.”

Evangelista became the second consecutive Brazilian volleyball player to earn the Graber Award after Central Florida’s Vannesa Benke claimed the honor in 2013. Like Benke, Evangelista pointed to the transition from Brazil to the United States as one of the toughest hurdles to overcome in her two-year collegiate career.

“My transition was a little bit difficult in the beginning,” Evangelista said. “But even with all the difficulties that I had in Brazil – getting all the documents needed, leaving my family over there, traveling to another country for the first time and without speaking English – going to Blinn College was such a wonderful experience.”

Although the award is in place to honor an individual for their personal performance, Mellinger
also sees the award as a reflection of the prestige of Blinn and her volleyball program.

“This esteemed award not only helps build our program but it says a lot about the program before Bruna and I arrived,” she said. “This award reflects on Blinn College’s high academic standards along with what we have to offer our student-athletes. I believe it not only helps promote our program but also the image of Blinn College and our Athletic Department.”

Recruited by some of the top NCAA volleyball programs in the nation, Evangelista decided to continue her collegiate career next season with Alabama. With a young 2014 squad that features 10 underclassmen, the Crimson Tide are looking forward to the experience the Blinn transfer will bring in.

“I have very high expectations here at Alabama,” Evangelista said. “I am working very hard in order to be ready for this opportunity that I have. I will do my best to be a good representative for the university and its volleyball program. I look forward to keep improving and helping others to improve just as much. I know that I play on one of the best teams and conferences in the nation and it will not be an easy task. Roll Tide!”

2013  Vanessa Benke  Volleyball  Central Florida
2012  Tryshia Centeno  Swimming & Diving  Indian River State (Fla.)
2011  Mitsuki Katahira  Golf  Daytona State (Fla.)
2010  Kelly Closse  Track & Field  South Plains (Texas)
2009  Nicola Race  Golf  Redlands (Okla.)
2008  Lindsey Palmer  Softball  Salt Lake (Utah)
2007  Kristina Jenkins  Bowling  Hudson Valley (N.Y.)
2006  Sally Kipyego  Cross Country/Track & Field  South Plains (Texas)
2005  Chelsie Mesa  Softball  Phoenix (Ariz.)
2004  Heidi Brooks  Basketball/Softball  Corning (N.Y.)
2003  Natashia Morehead  Basketball  Gulf Coast State (Fla.)
2002  Yuliana Perez  Track & Field  Pima (Ariz.)
2001  Stephanie Martin  Volleyball  Southern Idaho
2000  Devra Viekant  Cross Country/Track & Field  Utah Valley State
1999  Yalika Barnes  Basketball  Trinity Valley (Texas)
1998  Kaunda Kay Williams  Basketball  Gulf Coast State (Fla.)
1997  Nicole Weed  Softball  Daytona State (Fla.)
1996  Tricia Ferrin  Basketball  Utah Valley State
1995  Kay Mannebach  Cross Country/Track & Field  Colby (Kan.)
1994  Nema Corey  Softball  Meridian (Miss.)
1993  Carey Burton  Volleyball  Barton (Kan.)

Photos courtesy of Blinn Athletics.

About the NJCAA Betty Jo Graber Award
Betty Jo Graber spent 35 years advancing opportunities for women in NJCAA athletics. Along with a successful basketball coaching career at Weatherford College, she was also the Region 5 Women’s Director, the NJCAA Women’s Basketball Committee Chair and a founding member of the NJCAA Women’s Division. Graber is a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Tennessee. Graber was the perfect model of hard work, discipline, ethics and excellence in community college athletics. This award is given annually to the NJCAA Student-Athlete that best exhibits these traits.

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