St. Bonaventure women’s basketball: Academics and athleticism

Five members of the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball team are either graduate students, or taking graduate courses.

From left: Emily Michael, Kelcie Rombach, Gabby Richmond, Katie Healy and Nyla Rueter.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series discussing five St. Bonaventure women’s basketball players who are taking graduate level-courses while being a successful team on the court.)

ST. BONAVENTURE — Now in his 16th season as head coach of the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball team, Jim Crowley has had few problems when it comes to his players’ efforts in the classroom. His players have routinely performed well as it pertains to academics, yet most of the time it goes under the radar.

“It’s something we’re really proud of and isn’t discussed,” the veteran coach said. “Everybody discusses our records — and that’s great — but we’ve got some great students who have spent a lot of time doing what they do. I’m surrounded by people who are motivated.”

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. Just this week, senior Katie Healy earned a spot on the 2015-16 College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All- District Women’s Basketball Team. Healy, a senior Marketing major with a 3.46 cumulative GPA, is one of the five players currently taking graduate level courses. She will graduate with her undergraduate degree in May and will continue in school next year.

In addition to Healy, 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. All five are taking grad courses.

“TO IMPROVE yourself sets a really good example,” Crowley said. “It’s good that they’re doing it here and want to be part of Bonaventure and do it within our grad school. They’ve all done it well, and they’ve done it well on the floor, too.”

St. Bonaventure’s four student-athletes already with undergraduate degrees is the most on a Division 1 women’s basketball team in the country. All of their motivation, dedication, time and focus on academics, it might appear, would take away from their on-court success. Rather, the triumphs on the court and academic success go hand-in-hand. Through 25 games this season, the Bonnies are 20-5.

“To do it in the school year and the commitment they have in the summer,” Crowley said, “is why they’re good basketball-wise. To have a plan, have the inner motivation to get there and not cruise. To stay motivated to academically better themselves. The discipline to thrive in both areas, even with the distractions. The maturity to make decisions that are in your best interest long-term. They want to be good, and they have the willingness and maturity to do something about it.”

OF COURSE, St. Bonaventure has a support staff in place to help. Heather McDivitt, the Assistant Athletic Director for Academic Support and Student Services, and her assistant Molly Kaffka, provide assistance and guidance to the players.

“They’re the same way on the court that they are with their studies,” McDivitt said. “They’re willing to go above and beyond, and they embody what it truly means to be a student-athlete.”

As freshmen, each student-athlete receives a planner and has weekly meetings with McDivitt to go over key factors of being successful — organization, prioritization and time management — among other important qualities that are required for success.

“A successful student is an organized student,” McDivitt said. “The student-athletes build a really good foundation as freshmen. They’re really self-motivated and are really good at managing their time, and they’re students who understand the importance of education. They will be successful in life well beyond basketball.”

McDivitt reports weekly to assistant coach Andrea Mulcahy regarding progress reports for the 12 players. Crowley and Mulcahy (nee Doneth), a 2010 St. Bonaventure graduate and former player, and the fellow assistant coaches place a high level of emphasis on academics. But, with 12 players all with good GPAs and no inherent academic problems among any of them, the emphasis is more a tone of supervision rather than enforcement.

Crowley said, “My staff is so good and the players are so dedicated and helpful to one another that I don’t have to get involved in a bad way. Also, Heather and Molly are outstanding. The kids are comfortable with them and they’re very knowledgeable.”

The players take it upon themselves to finish their work. They wouldn’t be at St. Bonaventure without this kind of inner drive.

“The women are here for an education and an overall good experience,” McDivitt said. “They work hard and play hard. They have really high expectations and lot of accountability. The level of excellence permeates, and that’s the team mindset. They maximize their opportunities, are up to the challenge and willing to work hard. They use basketball as a resource to really help them into a new career, maximize the benefits.”

ANOTHER key individual in the process — especially for those who are in the Masters of Business Administration (MBA) program — is Brian McAllister, director of the program and also an accounting professor. McAllister outlined the process involved for inclusion in the program.

“You don’t just walk into the program, you have to be accepted,” McAllister said. “That means that all the ladies did tremendously well with their undergraduate level. Good GPA levels are granted regular acceptance.

“These student-athletes are used to being scheduled in everything they have to accomplish,” he said. “It’s better when they don’t have a million hours of free time and that they’re limited to the time they have to do their work. What you see on the court, their stamina — ‘everready bunnies,’ I call it — you see in the classroom. They’re all pleasant and they blend in nicely. Who even thinks of them as basketball players when they’re in the classroom?”

McAllister and his colleagues in the business department are receptive of the rigors it takes for the players to be successful in both aspects. They are all model students and work equally as hard as the non-athletes, perhaps more so due to time missed for road trips, etc.

“The faculty has been unbelievably cooperative in doing classes in the evenings, weekends, going up to Buffalo (Hilbert College),” he said. “That is very positive for St. Bonaventure and the School of Business.”

Crowley added, “The kids do the heavy lifting, but there’s a great support system. The professors are demanding but are understanding of student-athletes.”

Ten years from now, it’s highly unlikely that any of the 12 players on the team will be playing basketball at a higher level, no matter the levels of on-court success now.

But all 12 of them will be gainfully employed, thanks to the dedication, motivation and work ethic they showed at St. Bonaventure.

“Our program wants to help make the university better not because we’re good on the basketball court, we want to have people who make it better and get involved,” Crowley said. “We’ve created and established a good culture, we have people who want to be part of this culture are vigilant that it stays.

“(The philosophy is) ‘We’re going to be good students, good citizens and good basketball players.’”

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