The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 12, 2013

MSU athletic success starts with smarts

By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO —

It's been a very successful year for Minnesota State athletics, with seven teams and several individuals qualifying for and competing deep into national tournaments.
But's it's been an equally successful season in the classroom for Mavericks' athletics, as the combined grade-point average of 3.18 during spring semester was a nice complement to several individual academic awards.
"I think we've really gotten away from `dumb jock syndrome,' " said Kevin Buisman, the athletic director at Minnesota State. "You have to credit the coaches for recruiting athletes who have what it takes to be successful in the classroom, as well as in athletics."
Buisman said the cumulative spring-semester GPA for athletes in 20 sports was 3.18, which was about as high as he could remember in his 11 years at Minnesota State. In 11 women's sports, the cumulative GPA was 3.40. In nine men's sports, that number is 2.91.
"You have to have kids who know how to think the game," women's basketball coach Emilee Thiesse said. "There's a correlation between success in athletics and academics.
"It's important that you have a team that supports each other, that understands when someone needs to study, that can study together if they have the same classes. They take academics seriously."
The highest spring GPA in the women's department came from the tennis team at 3.68, just slightly higher than the 3.65 by the volleyball squad. The women's basketball team, which had a 3.5 GPA, was one of five women's program to have five athletes with a 4.0 GPA, joining indoor track, outdoor track, soccer and volleyball.
For the men, the highest spring GPA was 3.12 by the cross country team, and the golf team was also over 3.0 at 3.02. The indoor track team had five athletes with a 4.0 in the spring.
The baseball team, which missed a lot of class in the spring because of travel, posted a 2.8 GPA with two players with a 4.0 and eight players on the dean's list.
Coach Matt Magers said that all new players to the program are required to have four hours of study table in the first semester, and that continues until their GPA is 2.7 or better. They are responsible for communicating with professors when they are going to miss class and make up the necessary work when they return.
"There are a lot of kids who take advantage of that study time, even though they aren't required to," Magers said. "It's a set time devoted to studying, and it's another opportunity for the guys to hang out together."
He credits academic coordinator Brittany Henderson, a former Minnesota State track athlete, for helping the athletes get any help they may need. 
Overall, there were 563 athletes competing at MSU in the last school year, and 58 had a 4.0 GPA and 212 were on the dean's list for the spring semester, about 38 percent. There were 349 athletes, about 62 percent, that achieved a 3.0 or better.
For the year, Minnesota State had 195 athletes that earned conference academic awards and seven that received national academic honors. Junior Ben Keller, a member of the baseball team who holds a 4.0 GPA in mechanical engineering, received the Elite 89 Award, the only baseball player in Division II to ever earn that honor twice.
The cumulative career GPA for all 563 athletes at MSU last year was 3.21.
Buisman said the academic performance may not get the same publicity as athletic success, but he feels it is important to parents of potential recruits.
"The coaches are a competitive bunch, and they are the same way when it comes to their programs' academic achievement," he said. "The coaches take a lot of pride in their players accomplishments."
For the women's basketball team, which had the second best season in program history, Thiesse credits the academic prowess of her players for the ability to make a smooth transition to her as a coach, considering she was hired shortly before the season began.
"We have great leadership in our program," Thiesse said. "The girls are committed to academics, and the staff supports them. If you feel you have the support of the coaches and your teammates, you can have success in academics and basketball."