As the 2016 season nears for the Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (SIEU) volleyball team, the program has earned an academic honor from its 2015 campaign.
Last season's Cougars squad earned the Team Academic Award by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, according to siuecougars.com. That made the program one of 131 in NCAA Division I to receive the honor. There were 334 women's volleyball programs in Division I in 2015, according to ScholarshipStats.com.
In order to qualify for the honor, a program must have a cumulative grade-point average of at least 3.3 on a 4.0 scale or 4.1 on a 5.0 scale. With 11 players having GPAs of 3.3 or better during the 2015-16 school year, according to siuecougars.com, the volleyball team posted the highest GPA among all teams at the school for the fall and spring semesters, the website said.
Cougars head coach Leah Johnson said the program set a GPA record in the spring. She said that academics is a big part of the program's recruiting rubric.
“Of course we value high grades and test scores, but we feel the mindset a student demonstrates toward their academic growth is really the best indicator of their future success,” the coach said. “When the recruit can verbalize their academic work ethic, we feel strongly that she would be a good fit for our program and culture.”
Johnson said the team expects to perform at a high academic level in the classroom.
That's built on with the use of resources such as tutors, study sessions, the writing center and academic advisers.
Also, SIUE has a track record of strong academics, from athletes and teams routinely earning academic honors to strong graduation rates. The school had the top student-athlete graduation rate among public colleges in Illinois and ranked in the top 10 nationally, according to siue.edu.
“The environment truly sets the tone from day one as a freshman,” Johnson said. “It starts from the athletic director all the way through the administration and coaches to the athletes. Our athletes are expected to prioritize graduation and their career goals, and the support staff is in place to foster those goals. It's a great atmosphere for success.”
The Cougars are coming off an 8-18 season that included a 6-10 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Johnson said the program has an exciting season ahead.
“We will be a veteran team and enjoy some incredible depth in every position," she said. "This is different than the last few years. Our experience and versatility should be a great advantage in a challenging OVC schedule. Similar to our academic cultures at SIUE, I believe this team has an amazing culture of respect, service and growth. They support one another all the while pushing them. It will be a fun season.”
The Cougars open the season against Wright State on Aug. 26 in Dayton, Ohio.