The University of Louisiana at Lafayette capped off a stellar sports year Saturday with the Ragin’ Cajuns receiving several honors at the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame awards banquet.
Topping the list was softball standout Christiana Hamilton, a junior pitcher who compiled a 29-4 record in leading the Ragin’ Cajuns to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2006.
Hamilton received the Corbett Award was Louisiana’s top female amateur athlete of the year.
“It’s an amazing honor.” Hamilton said. “I didn’t know I was even being considered.
“It’s inspiring to think about all of the others who have won this honor before and then to be picked out of all the girls in Louisiana. But they’ll all tell you they can’t do anything without their teammates.”
Also Saturday, UL-Lafayette baseball Tony Robichaux was cited as the outstanding college coach in the state, basketball standout Elfrid Payton was a two-winner as the athlete of the month from the area, and the entire athletic department received a special award in recognition for the school winning five Sun Belt Conference championships.
“This represents the culmination of so much hard work by so many people,” UL-Lafayette Athletic Director Scott Farmer said. “Our coaches recruit great athletes and then we all work to pull the rope in the same direction.
“This was magical because it all came together. Then we get out in the community and they reciprocate by coming out and supporting us. Everybody likes winners.”
The male Corbett winner was St. Augustine running back Leonard Fournette, the first high-schooler to be so honored. Fournette, considered the top prep prospect in the nation, officially reports at LSU on Sunday to begin his college career.
Also honored in the ceremonies held in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and sponsored by the Allstate Sugar Bowl were five inductees into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame: basketball players Avery Johnson, Kerry Kittles and Harold Cervini; football’s Lionel Washington and the late Anna Koll, an all-around athlete from the 1920s and ’30s.
Hamilton became a fan favorite with her distinctive glasses, a fashion statement from her days in high school when a lens popped out but she pitched with them anyway.
“It’s so great seeing the fans out there wearing glasses too,” she said. “You know they’re behind you all the way.”
The WCWS experience. Hamilton said, was disappointing because the Cajuns lost both of their games. But she said it made them more determined to make it back in 2015.
“We learned how to handle the environment to control our emotions,” she said. “It’s going to help us next time.”
Robichaux’s baseball team didn’t make to the CWS, but the Cajuns did win 58 games and were the No. 1 national seed.
In addition to the Corbett Award, Fournette was named the Greater New Orleans Male High School Athlete of the Year. And now, before he plays a down of college football, Fournette has been called the most NFL-ready freshman since Adrian Peterson.
“It’s nice to be compared to all the greats, but I don’t worry about it,” Fournette said. “All I’m focusing on is being the best player I can be at LSU and helping the team.”
Of the Hall of Famers, Cervini, from St. Aloysius and Tulanel; and Washington, a Tulane graduate who had a 15-year NFL career at cornerback; were both present.
Cervini, who described himself as a “little Italian boy who spoke broken English” went from being a basketball novice at St. Roch Playground to playing for Johnny Altobello at St. Aloysius to becoming a two-time All-Southeastern Conference player at Tulane.
“It’s been a great experience,” said Cervini, who was a longtime supervisor of playgrounds in Algiers. “I have so much to be thankful for.”
Washington, now the defensive coordinator at Tulane after a 15-year career in the NFL, said he overcome all of the obstacles his life with a winning, yet humble attitude.
“Everybody wants to the next great star,” he said. “But you never achieve anything with sacrifice and the attitude that nobody is ever going to outwork you. That’s what motivated me to be successful.”
Koll was described as “New Orleans’ greatest all-around athlete,” in 1930 after she had state tennis championships in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Massachusetts. She also excelled in AAU track and cabbage ball.
Koll was represented by her great-niece, Monique Koll, who has gained her own measure of renown by her recovery from a broken neck suffered when she was hit by a truck while riding a bicycle.
“I was in the hospital for two years and in home-bound rehab for another,” she said. “But I can honestly say I would not have made it without some the inspiration I received from my Aunt Anna. She probably would have been embarrassed by this tonight, but she certainly deserved it.”
Receiving special recognition Saturday were UNO basketball coach Mark Slessinger for promoting safe environments for foster children, Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoolahan for keeping the game in the top tier of bowl events, and Nicholls State Athletic Director Rob Bernardi for his leadership at the school.