It was announced earlier this month that Slippery Rock University’s field hockey team ranked third in the nation last year with a team GPA of 3.60.
2016’s squad continued the long-standing tradition that head coach Julie Swiney has established in her seven years at SRU: academic excellence for her student-athletes.
“It’s the way my philosophy of coaching works, academics are really important,” Swiney, who has no shortage of academic honors to her name, said.
Throughout Swiney’s time at Slippery Rock, the field hockey team recorded the best GPA in the nation four times, and the success has only spread from there. Out of the 24 players listed on the roster, 17 landed on the NFHCA Division II national academic squad. To receive that honor, a player must have recorded above a 3.30 GPA in the fall semester.
“You’re never going to be a professional field hockey player, so I want them to be in a competitive environment in both and I expect them to do well in the classroom so that they can be successful after school,” Swiney said about how she instills her values into her players “It’s about consistency and it’s just my personal philosophy.”
Slippery Rock university’s Athletic Director, Paul Lueken, had nothing but praise for the program.
“It’s really impressive. I think it speaks highly of our field hockey program, and mostly our student-athletes.” Lueken also had a lot of praise for coach Swiney and her assistant, “It says a lot for coach Swinney and coach Hopkins. They do a great job. And obviously, the ladies do a great job in the classroom.”
Lueken was not shy when speaking about how this honor effects SRU’s athletic department.
“It sheds a great light on our program. If you look at every team, our program is top five in the conference every year in terms of scholar athletes, GPA, and graduation rates. Field hockey is definitely a highlight for us,” Lueken said.
Two seniors for The Rock earned the National Academic Squad Distinction for the fourth time in their careers, forward Megan Mckay and defender Kayla Klaus.
“It’s a great legacy to leave,” Lueken said. “Firstly for the incoming players and the incoming student-athletes it shows that if you’re dedicated to what you want, you can excel in it. We’re very proud of them.”
Lueken expanded on why he thinks that level of academic success helps SRU with recruiting.
“It plays right into what we’re selling,” Lueken explained. “We want a higher quality academic student and student-athlete.”
Lueken isn’t the only one who thinks the academic success is beneficial for bettering the Student-athletes of Slippery Rock.
“I try to recruit players that value their academics, but I recruit players that aren’t great students as well,” Swiney said. “Through the recruiting process, they stress that that is a focus for our program. They know coming in that they will have to work hard in the classroom and on the field.”
In addition to landing on the academic squad, five student-athletes garnered the NFHCA Division II Scholar of Distinction award, freshman midfielder Hannah Shirk, sophomore forward Sam Geroski, sophomore defender Liz Wolfe, freshman midfielder Jordan Barnes and Klaus. It was Wolfe’s second time earning a scholar of distinction, and Klaus’ third. For an athlete to earn that distinction, they must have recorded at least a 3.90 GPA during the fall semester.
To achieve that level of academic excellence while playing a sport is a great achievement, and Barnes told how she’s able to manage everything.
“Just prioritize,” Barnes said. “We get an advantage because our bus rides are so long, so we get a lot of work done on those. It’s just time management.”
Barnes also spoke very highly of her coach and her parents.
“Coach is really good with allowing us to take time if we need to do something. Obviously, school is our first priority,” Barnes said. “My parents were really big on academic achievement throughout my career and it has carried through college.”
Barnes offered tips to future student-athletes on how they can do what she has done, “Just be organized. Know when you have to do things and when they have to be handed in. Give yourself a lot of time and don’t spend a lot of time procrastinating and waiting. That way it’s done and it’s done well.”
Even the highest-achieving student-athletes can have difficulties adjusting to the professional world, and Swiney offered her advice on how she helps her players.
“I try to support them if they need it, a lot of them have clear goals and don’t ask for too much mentorship at that point, but I’m always here to write letters of recommendation and speak to anyone I can about the skills they’ve learned as a college student-athlete. ”
Swiney again emphasized how much work it takes to reach the level of success, something she knows first-hand after receiving the CAA commissioners conference academic award in 2002 during her playing days. “It’s really challenging to do that well and I think it gives you lots of skills to be successful after college.”
That level of academic success can spread throughout the academic community as a whole, Leuken explained how he hears about the field hockey team wherever he goes. “When I go through the community, people come up to me and say ‘wow they are really doing some great things.’ It’s great.”