Time management, communication, college support all cited as keys
Chesapeake College is 12-2, ranked 19th in the nation and gunning for its fourth straight women’s basketball regional championship. And the Skipjacks are also producing championship-level results in the classroom.
As a team, the Skipjacks posted a 2.9 grade-point average during the 2014 fall semester. That included six players at 3.0 or higher, including a perfect 4.0 from sophomore point guard Domonique Hagins.
"They’ve been really focused on our mission," said Gwen Barnes, Chesapeake’s first-year head coach. "I really stress academics first and basketball second."
Hagins, who has posted 4.0 GPAs each of the last two semesters, said the key for her academic success has been fairly simple.
"It’s really just about communication," said Hagins, a Liberal Arts major who would eventually like to become an engineer. "I communicate with my instructors on email or by going to their office hours just to make sure I’m on the right track. All of my teachers have been easy to get along with and communicate with."
Even so, Hagins said balancing classes, schoolwork, practice and games is "extremely hard, but if you’re striving to get good grades it’s just going to cost you a couple of hours of sleep."
Sophomore Daria Simmons, who finished the fall semester with a 3.6 grade-point average, said for her "it’s all about time management."
"I schedule study time before and after practice," added Simmons, an Early Childhood Development major who hopes to open her own day care. "When I started college, I didn’t know exactly how things would work out, but I knew I wanted to get As and Bs in all of my classes. So I knew I would have to schedule [all her activities] and manage my time well."
Sophomore Paige Jones, who earned a 3.5 GPA during the fall semester, said she just had to "stay focused all the way around."
"Coach [Barnes] talked to us about balancing things so we have time to do everything," said Jones, who hopes to become a physical therapist. "And my Mom taught me that student athletes are not just athletes."
Simmons said the college’s entire support system – from faculty to tutors to staff members – has been key to the team’s strong academic performance. She emphasized the work of Dana Bowser, the college’s director of first-year programs, who also acts as the team’s academic advisor.
"Mrs. Bowser helped me out in my first year," said Simmons. "She made it comfortable for me to talk with people and get the help I needed."
"Dana Bowser has been a big help – coming to speak with the team, talking about college life and stress management and all the different nuances that can interfere with staying focused," said Barnes.
Bowser said many of the women’s basketball players signed up for one or both of her office’s primary first-year experience activities – Success and Interactive Learning (SAIL) and First-Generation Students’ Opportunity for Career and Ultimate Success (FOCUS). Bowser said many players worked with tutors through the Academic Support Center and also participated in tutoring offered on a volunteer basis in the First-Year Office by Dr. Juliette Smith, an associate professor of developmental studies/English.
"The ASC tutors who worked with the women’s basketball team’s outstanding students offer their congratulations on the students’ impressive academic achievements," said Chesapeake College Director of Academic Support Melina Baer. "Throughout the semester, the student athletes who came for tutoring showed their commitment to academic excellence through consistent hard work and effort. We are proud of their dedication both on and off the court."
Bowser also praised the student athletes’ commitment.
"They came to us a lot and they really bought into the fact it’s their responsibility to get good grades," said Bowser, "and Gwen regularly emphasized they needed to make academics their top priority."
"I reach out to the instructors about the girls’ attendance, participation and classwork," said Barnes. "Their instructors have been really good about giving me insight on how our girls are doing in class so we can work through issues early."
Simmons said the team members have acted as a strong academic support system for one another.
"Depending on the class, certain people are better in one subject than another," said Simmons. "If a teammate is struggling, we reach out to them."
Athletic Director Frank Szymanski said the players’ academic success is a testament to both their work ethic and the college’s comprehensive support system.
"They’ve demonstrated their commitment to their schoolwork and being as successful in the classroom as they are on the court. That’s the definition of student athletes," said Szymanski. "I also know that faculty, Student Success staff, academic tutors and all the other formal and informal support structures in place make a huge difference. It really is a team effort."
Jones said the Skipjacks are using their academic success to fuel their athletic success as the team guns for a fourth straight region title and national tournament berth.
"We all know what we’re trying to achieve," said Jones, noting keeping everyone academically eligible is a key to their championship goals. "We all want to go back to nationals and we know what that takes on the court and in the classroom."