(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series discussing five St. Bonaventure women’s basketball players who are taking graduate-level courses all the while being a successful team on the court. Today: the players speak.)
ST. BONAVENTURE — Being a collegiate student-athlete is rigorous enough in its own right. Being a collegiate student-athlete taking graduate level courses while being a successful athlete may seem almost impossible.
But not for the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball team. Five of coach Jim Crowley’s players truly embody the “student-athlete” motif as they are taking graduate level courses. Four of them received their undergraduate degree early, the other will complete her undergrad in May and is already working on graduate level coursework.
Emily Michael (management) and Kelcie Rombach (English) both completed their undergraduate requirements a year early. Gabby Richmond (marketing) and Nyla Rueter (sports studies) each graduated in December, and Katie Healy (marketing) will complete her undergraduate degree in May. Healy was accepted into the university’s Master of Business Administration program and is concurrently finishing her undergrad degree and working toward her MBA. Rueter is in the Strategic Leadership program, while the other four are in the university’s MBA program.
St. Bonaventure’s four student-athletes already with undergraduate degrees are the most on a Division I women’s basketball team in the country. That success comes from the demanding coursework and a devout dedication to the studies. So perhaps it doesn’t come as a surprise that the women have a 19-4 record on the court this season and appear primed to play in a postseason tournament.
“WE’VE all gone through basketball for 3-4 years, so the balance (between classwork and basketball) isn’t as hard as you’d think,” said Michael, a graduate student from Clayton, Ohio. “Classes are just once a week, so you have a week to get your assignments done.”
The qualities necessary for them to be successful, especially in the classroom, come at an early age. After all, these players wouldn’t be wearing a Bonnies jersey if they weren’t equally as prepared to be a good student.
“Commitment is No. 1,” said Richmond, a redshirt junior from Chicago. “If you’re not committed to anything, you’re going to slack and be a part-time student or athlete. You have to have a good work ethic and work hard at whatever you do.”
That commitment might be most effective when the team goes on road trips. Long bus rides and hotel stays provide them a lot of time to focus on their studies. They have to prioritize what’s important.
“Time management. You can’t procrastinate, especially during basketball season when you’re on the road and get back late at night, you really don’t have five hours when you get back at midnight to finish a project that’s due at 8 a.m.,” said Rombach, a graduate student from Ottawa. Ill.
WITH FIVE players taking graduate courses at night, and an additional seven underclassmen taking their own classes, how does the team find time to practice and continue to find a high level of success on the court?
“Coach works our practice schedule around our academic schedule, and not every coach does that,” Michael said. “Our classes are at night so sometimes practices are at 6:45 a.m. That shows how much coaches care about academics.”
It’s evident that Crowley and his assistant coaches — all of whom are Bona graduates — place a great emphasis on academics. Study halls are built into many of the road trips, not to mention working the practice schedule around their class time. But at the same time, the need for that kind of monitoring is simply of a supervisory nature. All 12 players on the team, certainly including the five in graduate courses, are self-motivated and dedicated enough in their own right to know how to best utilize their time. They wouldn’t be where they are without a high level of personal passion. A year ago, the Bonnies ranked 23rd among all Division I women’s basketball programs in the country in cumulative grade point average (3.41). All 12 of the current players earned a 3.0 or better in the fall semester. High GPAs have been a staple of Crowley’s programs over his 16 seasons as coach.
“Coach and the assistants put a lot of emphasis on academics,” said Rueter, a graduate student from Hagerstown, Ind. “The coaches are really big on us having a good overall GPA.”
Healy added, “The coaches won’t let anybody fall below a 3.0 for your overall GPA, not just that semester. They want you to have a 3.0 minimum, and everybody wants to excel over that so we don’t have to do extra study hall and they don’t have to watch over us to get all of our work done. That’s a testament to the program.”
PERHAPS most important to the overall success is the understanding from the university professors and staff. There’s Heather McDivitt, the Assistant Athletic Director for Academic Support and Student Services, and her assistant, Academic Coordinator Molly Kaffka. Both ensure the players are integrated into the university with a proper support and structure system. On top of that, how the professors are flexible with all the student-athletes eases the pressure when road trips cause class absences. The professors offering their time in the summer so that a majority of student-athletes can take courses during those months is an added benefit, as well.
“One thing I found at St. Bonaventure is that the teachers are really understanding of our schedule,” Healy said. “They always make time for us, they make it easy on us to still get good grades.”
Richmond added, “The professors aren’t against you. They want to work with you as long as you tell them ahead of time.”
The players all have different career plans after their time at St. Bonaventure comes to a close. Michael, for instance, has a plan to move to Denver following graduation to work in data analysis or portfolio management. Richmond – who has one more year of NCAA eligibility left due to her redshirt season in 2012-13 – wants to return to Chicago and get a job in business. Healy wants to extend her time on the court.
“I’m planning on continuing my basketball career but after that I plan to do something in marketing or accounting,” the Lancaster, N.Y., native said. “I would love to work with a sports team, but realistically that might not be possible.”
Rueter and Rombach both want to coach, with Rueter expressing a strong interest to work in strength and conditioning.
Watch them play and it’s apparent that all of them are working to make one another better. To Michael and Healy, the same thing happens in the classroom.
“A lot of us are in business now and we have a lot of classes together, so it’s easy to motivate each other,” she said. “Whether we’ve taken the class before and can give advice, or if we’re in class together and we can help each other, talk about things we’ve read and the assignments we go through.”
Healy added, “At one point we were competing for the highest GPA all-around. It was friendly competition, but that did motivate us to get better grades.”
No winner was proclaimed in that contest, but it’s clear that not only is the women’s basketball team winning on the court, but also in the classroom.
(Part 2 will delve into coach Jim Crowley, Heather McDivitt and Brian McAllister, the director of the MBA program. They will discuss further how the five student-athletes have worked hard, and what their roles are to ensure success for all involved.)