Duran named Female College Athlete of the Year by the OWH

By Omaha World Herald staff writer Dylan Garner

Any softball player would be jealous of Bianca Duran's freshman season at Western Nebraska Community College.

Few athletes have the ability to step into a new environment and instantly become a team leader. Duran's dominance in the circle and her power hitting got her to that point, but it's how she progressed that has made her The World-Herald's Midlands college female athlete of the year.

Schools nominated athletes and the winner was picked by a committee of writers and editors.

When WNCC coach Maria Winn-Ratliff brought in Duran from Westminster, Colo., she had already established a small softball dynasty at the Scottsbluff school. Entering the 2012 season, the Cougars had won consecutive Region IX championships and three of the last four.

Duran was there to make sure it happened again. Her 15 home runs and 25 wins helped Western Nebraska remain regional champs.

"It was the first time I'd ever won something like that," Duran said. "That was a really big deal for me, and I was glad to be a part of it."

With her success came the possibility of moving to Division I. She took it upon herself to improve for her second season.

"She had a really good freshman year, but I think she knew she had more to contribute," Winn-Ratliff said. "Over the summer, she did a really nice job getting herself in pitching shape and made great adjustments at the plate. She was much more mentally focused and mature than her freshman year."

If she was dominant as a freshman, she was borderline unstoppable as a sophomore.

Her batting average went from .284 to .545. She hit 23 home runs, totaling 38 in her career. All were school records, but she wasn't done.

"We tell them all the time records are meant to be broken," Winn-Ratliff said. "She didn't even know about some of them."

Her pitching was just as impressive.

In the 41 games she pitched this season, 36 were wins and 27 were complete games. She finished with a 1.11 ERA and 181 strikeouts.

Perhaps the biggest record she helped break was the team victory mark as the Cougars finished 55-10.

Her coach said Duran stayed level-headed after every achievement and win.

"I would give her a game ball and she would be like what is this for. She is very humble," Winn-Ratliff said. "I was very excited for her and the team. Some of the records that were set this year will be hard to break."

Her effort earned her that Division I opportunity she was looking for - she's headed to Louisiana Tech.

"She went down on a visit and knew right away that is where she wanted to go to school," Winn-Ratliff said.

Duran is looking forward to the next stage in her career, but she remains appreciative for her time as a Cougar.

"I want to be a big part of Louisiana Tech like I was at Western Nebraska," Duran said. "I'm really thankful for all the people that believed in me and got me to where I am now."

*Duran is the second Western Nebraska Cougar to win the honor that is presented annually since 1989 to a non-Division I student athlete. Volleyball standout Fatima Balza won the honor in 2009. WNCC is also the only junior college to be represented on the list.

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