COLUMBUS -- After posting the best finish in school history on the court, the Raiders did the same in the classroom.
The Central Community College volleyball team was named the 2012-13 Academic Team of the Year for volleyball June 18 by the National Junior College Athletic Association. The Raiders posted the top team grade-point average of any volleyball team with an average of 3.61 on a 4.0 scale.
"We've kind of been chasing this No. 1 spot for a few years. We finished in the top 10 a few times and a few years ago, we finished second," Central volleyball head coach Mary Young said. "I know it's been in the back of my mind that we're so close, and it would be nice to finally be on the top. I think it's a testament to all the players we've had in our program for a long time."
Sophomore McKenzie Leu led the charge, finishing the year with a 3.98 GPA in Pre-Veterinary, earning her the Superior Academic Achievement award from the NJCAA. Becky Wessel also earned the Superior Academic Achievement award after holding a 3.91 GPA in Business. Darian Erickson earned the Exemplary Academic Achievement award with a 3.76 GPA in nursing.
At least one Central athlete has earned individual academic honors every year since 1997.
Also contributing for the Central volleyball team were Kendall Knapp, Chelsea Saalfeld, Jackie Bosak, Kaitlyn Ernst, Shannon Elkins, Shuraya Frauendorfer and Morgan Heise.
Although Young stresses academics, this year's squad took it upon itself to take its academic success to the next level. As the Raiders were making a run at the national tournament this past season, it was schoolwork that weighed heaviest on the players' minds, according to Young.
"I remember one morning where they asked if we could do one more study hall because they were really concerned for their school work," she said. "McKenzie Leu said to me after one of our study tables, 'You know coach? Now I feel like I can play this afternoon.' I thought that was a powerful thing that she was thinking of her studies, and once her studies were done, she felt like she could really get after it on the court, and that's the way it should be."
And after the Raiders' fifth-place finish at nationals, Leu was quickly buried in her studies again on the bus ride home from Toledo, Ohio early the next morning.
"I look back in the bus, and she's wide awake doing physics problems. We just finished fifth in the nation, we're on the road trip home and the work doesn't stop," Young said. "They got great grades, and they took hard classes. These girls are taking organic chemistry, statistics, physics, anatomy and physiology. They're taking some classes that are pretty demanding and managing them very well."
Academics is something that Young stresses to her players, even before they arrive on campus.
"Coming in, I tell them that is the expectation," Young said. "They aren't allowed to skip class, and the expectation is that they're going to do well in their classes, they're going to be respectful to their instructors, they're going to inform their instructors of our schedule, when we are going to be gone and they're responsible for all their work. We tell them it's their job to go to class and be a good student, then they get the opportunity to get on the court and play a sport they love.
"The wins are nice, but really, our mission is to provide a good, strong education. I tell every one of our players that when they come in when we recruit them -- we won't promise them playing time, but we'll promise them a great education."
The 2012-13 Central volleyball team cemented its status as arguably the best in school history with this award.
"They're good representatives of our school and of the community," Young said. "They were No. 1 in the classroom and No. 5 on the court -- that's pretty powerful, and we're going to enjoy that."
Also receiving individual academic awards for Central was Cole Pritchard, a member of the men's golf team who holds a 3.95 GPA and was awarded the Superior Academic Achievement award. Paige Delancey, a softball player who holds a 3.91 GPA, earned the Superior Academic Achievement award, while fellow softball player Mariah Bigelow earned the Exemplary Academic Achievement award with her 3.71 GPA.
"Our softball team has traditionally done tremendously in the classroom, and that's great competition right there," Young said. "That's great for our student-athletes and our athletic program."