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BOGACZYK: Volleyball Success Leads Herd Athletes Making the Grade

Mitch Jacobs
Jan. 12, 2015

By JACK BOGACZYK

HERDZONE.COM COLUMNIST

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - If you thought the Marshall football team's 13-1 season, Conference USA championship and Boca Raton Bowl victory were the only major successes by the Thundering Herd in the fall semester, you were wrong.

While Coach Doc Holliday's football team posted a season chock full of records, Marshall student-athletes - led by the volleyball squad - made the 2014 fall semester one to remember in the classroom, too.

Seven of the 14 Herd teams (women's indoor and outdoor track and field and cross country count as one team) posted team grade points averages of 3.05 or better during the semester. Another three teams (men's soccer, men's cross country and baseball) topped 2.9.

Only men's basketball didn't post at least a 2.5 as a team, and in the first semester under new Coach Dan D'Antoni, that team lifted its term GPA from 2.20 in the 2014 spring to a 2.40.

Volleyball was the team with the best spike. Coach Mitch Jacobs' Herd had an outstanding team GPA average of 3.72, after also leading the Herd programs in the spring at 3.50. Fourteen of the 15 volleyball players own cumulative GPAs of 3.0 or better, and the same number had 3.0 or better in the fall semester.

That Herd volleyball made those grades during the season makes the accomplishment all the more impressive, said Tara Helton, director of the Buck Harless Student-Athlete Program for academic advising.

"To have a team GPA over 3.7 during our season time, or anytime, shows a real dedication from our student-athletes," Jacobs said. "But it doesn't happen alone. Without the academic support from our Buck Harless advisors it just couldn't happen. It starts with their leadership and I can tell you, Tara's job is not an easy one.

"We've had constant change in her department and each advisor she assign to volleyball -- AJ (Hubbard) being our present advisor -- has done a wonderful job working with our athletes and coaching staff. The communication is great and it starts with Tara's way of doing her business and expecting others to be as good as her. She's the best academic leader I've been around in my 22 years of coaching.

"I know that this fall is a little bit of an anomaly. To have six players with 4.0 GPAs and only one below a 3.0 is amazing. That is an extraordinary effort and I don't throw that word around very much. With that said, when you look at the leadership within our team it really doesn't shock me that we achieved such a high mark. It goes with our season; we compete at everything."

Joining volleyball with team average GPAs of 3.0 or better last semester were tennis (3.59), swimming (3.51), women's golf (3.48), women's soccer (3.48), softball (3.33) and track and field (3.05). Each of those teams' average GPAs were up from the 2014 spring semester, too.

In what was always one of late MU President Stephen Kopp's favorite nights, the display of academic success will come with the Student-Athlete Academic Recognition Parade during the Jan. 22 men's basketball home game against UTSA.

Those individual athletes and teams with 3.0 cumulative or fall-semester GPAs will be able to walk onto the Henderson Center floor. There are 189 student-athletes possible for the session, and that number would eclipse 200 were it not for two teams being away for game schedules.

Helton has been with the Harless program for 10 years.

"Our numbers for the just-completed fall semester have to be right at the top of what we've done since I've been here," Helton said. "Most of our sports teams' term GPAs are up from the spring (2014) semester. Volleyball, in particular, had a really outstanding semester.

"Individually, our percentages of student-athletes with cumulative and single-semester GPAs of 3.0 have risen significantly in most cases, too. I think the fall semester's numbers - again - just go to show we are consistent in nature with the number of teams continuing to perform at a 3.0 and above.

"Taking everything into account - all the responsibilities that go with being a Division I student-athlete, like playing schedules, travel, the commitment to academics is obviously there, too."

At the end of the fall semester, 183 Herd student-athletes had 3.0 cumulative GPAs, or 53 percent of all enrolled MU student-athletes (360 total) - up from 47 percent last May. In the fall semester, 56 percent had 3.0 (201 individuals), up from 53 percent from the spring 2014 term.

After the fall 2013 term, 159 Herd athletes had cumulative 3.0s. That number grew to 168 last spring and now is up to 183

While Holliday's team was winning the first C-USA football title for the Herd, it had good numbers with the books, too. The average team GPA was 2.53, and 33 players had 3.0 GPAs for the semester, while 31 (of 107 players) finished the fall semester with a cumulative 3.0 or better.

During the 2013 fall semester - concurrent with football season - the Herd had 21 cumulative GPAs and 22 term GPAs. So, those numbers rose by 10 and 11, respectively.

"Across the board, these numbers display the continued hard work dedication put forth by our student-athletes, coaches and academic support staff in the Buck Harless Student-Athlete Program," Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick said. "We're coming off a very good year in the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate numbers, too.

"Our commitment to academics is obvious in these team and individual grades. And we'll have a great opportunity to add to this success - and maybe even enhance those numbers -- when the Buck Harless Program moves this spring into our new academic center that's a prominent piece of the Chris Cline Athletic Complex's indoor facility."

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