There’s a reason “student” comes first in “student-athlete.”
Women’s volleyball was one USD team that exemplified that mindset last year, in addition to winning on the court.
The team has been recognized for its achievements in the classroom by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA).
The team tore up the Summit League last year – they finished with a record of 13-3 in the league, 25-7 overall. They made it to the Summit League Tournament finals, where they lost to the University of Denver three sets to one.
The AVCA Team Academic Award was created in 1992 and recognizes volleyball teams that have GPAs above 3.30 on a 4.0 scale. In 2016, USD’s volleyball team had a GPA of 3.6.
Kelly Law, a senior middle hitter, said academics have always been important to the team.
“Our coaches expect us to get good grades, and we expect each other to get good grades,” Law said. “It’s a focus for our team – we’re not here just to be athletes, we’re here to be students, too.”
Brad Wilson, manager of awards for AVCA, said academic awards are another way for AVCA to recognize team success.
“Most of the awards we do are specific to an athlete’s performance on the court, or a coach’s achievement in winning a league or a championship,” Wilson said. “Not every coach every year can compete on that level, so this way, they can say, ‘Well, if we’re not on the level of winning a championship, we can still compete in the classroom and get recognized on a national level.’ We’re allowing our membership multiple ways to receive recognition and get more benefit from their membership with the AVCA. It helps them build a resume, build a program and gives the athlete something to reach for off the court.”
More than 800 collegiate and high school teams received the AVCA Team Academic Award
Focus on and off the court
Kristina Susak, a junior outside hitter, said academics come first.
“We tell the incoming recruits, ‘Hey, we are an academically-focused team, we’re not just here to play volleyball, we’re here to, first and foremost, get an education,’” Susak said.
Susak said because of the team’s busy schedule, she’s learned to manage her time well.
“We don’t have that much time outside of when we’re in class and in the gym, so I think time management is huge,” she said.
The team has a support system in place to help each other out, Law said.
“We’re in study tables constantly, we’re getting tutors, we’re using the academic resources our university provides, which there are so many as everybody knows,” she said. “It’s definitely cool to see (the efforts) returned in rewards and things like that.”
Law said the team is hoping to continue its success in the classroom.
“Each year we set a higher GPA for each semester,” she said. “This year we’re reaching for a 3.65 GPA this semester, which is a good GPA for us and we hope to reach that again.”
Academics before athletics
Leanne Williamson, the team’s head coach, said academics come before volleyball.
“(Academics are) a big part of who we are,” she said. “It’s a part of our culture and it’s something that we’ve instilled in the team. It’s something that (the team) works towards. Being a student-athlete means putting the student first, volleyball is a really big perk at the end of it.”
Williamson said the team is a “very, very close group,” even when they walk off the court.
“That makes this group special,” she said. “They love hanging out with each other, being with each other, a lot of them live together.”
Williamson said success on the court can translate to success in the classroom, and vice versa.
“The discipline aspect, the dedication to what you’re doing and every player that’s on this team loves volleyball, they have a passion for it, but they also have a passion for school,” she said. “I think when you love what you’re doing, it’s a lot easier to put that time in. Being in a sport and having success in a sport requires that dedication and discipline, and so does being in the classroom.”
The team is headed to Hawaii after a trip to Wyoming last weekend. After going 1-2 in Wyoming, they’ll play Utah, Hawaii and Western Carolina this week in Honolulu, beginning with Utah on Thursday.