Outdoor season start

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            It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, Patrick Gym was sold out, and the men’s basketball team was getting ready to play its last home game of the year. On that day however, there was a special pregame ceremony that had the University’s interim president, John Bramley and Provost, Jane Knodell on the hardwood floor. It was time to receive, along with Chris Lemieux, President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council, an award that UVM is in the habit of winning.

            “Its an honor to hoist this thing another time,” Lemieux Said.

Presented by America East Commisioner Amy Huchthausen, a seventh straight win of the America East Academic Cup was greeted with a roar inside the gym. With it UVM Athletics may have begun to set the standard within the conference of athletic and academic excellence for its varsity athletes.

            With a cumulative GPA of 3.17, beating out UNH and Hartford, who tied for second with a 3.13 mark, the UVM community is feeling pride about its student-athletes

            “We get great student-athletes,” said Tom Gustafson, vice president for University relations & campus life. “It all starts with the internal culture.”

            Creating that culture within athletics is a job tasked to Director of Athletics Robert Corran.

Coaches are taught to recruit only academically capable students and academics are a topic of pride with the coaches, Corran said.

            “We want to make sure that our students succeed at UVM,” said Joe Gervais, associate athletic director for student-athlete services. “Coaches are told to look at all aspects of a student’s profile, not just talent.”

            “The expectations are high in both athletics and academics here,” Corran said. “Students are expected to stretch themselves.”

            Some students said that the coaches stress the classroom as much as the weight room when it comes to playing time.

            “You can’t play if you don’t have the grades,” said Luke Apfeld, junior forward for the men’s basketball team.

Coaches always stay on top of you when it comes to classes, Apfeld said.

“They have these weekly progress reports that get sent from each of your classes, so they know when you’re struggling and the help is always there,” he said.

An example of that team success is the Catamount Skiing team, which won the overall NCAA Skiing Championship this year while posting a combined team GPA of 3.7.

The team’s success is a clear representation of the academic quality and athletic competitiveness of UVM athletics, said Yannick Lewis, senior defender for the men’s soccer team.

Helping student athletes achieve this success is a task that falls to the support team, which includes four full-time staff according to the UVM Athletics website. It is there for the students every step of the way with a dedicated study space and academic support for athletes located within the Athletic complex.

The staff from student athlete services even travel with the teams in some cases.

“I actually ended up having to take my BSAD 132 exam on the flight down to the NCAA Tournament game against Lamar,” Sandro Carrissimo, sophomore guard for the men’s basketball team said. “They stress [academics] from day one, it’s a top priority, and they make you understand that.”

Other students said they wish more focus was put on academics.

“When soccer is around, academics comes second to games,” Lewis said. “I don’t think they stress [classes] that much, as long as you’re doing what you have to do.”

The catamounts have won seven consecutive academic cups, as there have been different second place schools during the Catamounts winning stretch according to the America East website.

 “I really think that the sustained success comes from the fact that this is an institutional priority for UVM,” Gervais said, “We get support from central administration and all the academic units; it’s a collaborative effort.”

Since the streak started in 2004-2005, the Catamounts have been outright champions academically, except for in 07′ when they shared the honors with Maine. Vermont also won the inaugural America East academic cup in the 1995-96 season, making UVM the school with the ‘smartest’ athletes a record eight times according to the America East site.

“I wouldn’t give up the academic cups for any number of wins,” Gustafson said.

Some students said they believe that even though the academic aspects of life at UVM are stressed, it’s really the quality of the students that makes the school so successful.

“We just have some awesome kids,” Apfeld said. “They work really hard, the coaches recruit character first.”

“Our athletic community is really tight, that’s helpful,” said H.T. Lenz, sophomore forward for the men’s hockey team. “We take classes together, and are always there to help each other, no matter what sport.”

The athletics department does its best to make sure students always have the support they need and make sure that they can get help with anything they need, Gervais said. The department has also used the success to build towards the future.

“We use the seven straight cups in our recruitment now,” Corran said. “Parents and students view it well; it’s a great way to show our institutional commitment to success, not only on the field, but in the classroom.”

For most of the student athletes here, this is the peak of their athletic careers, so we try and stress the value of an education, Gervais said.

“I’m going to need my degree,” Lenz said. “UVM is a great place to learn.”