The CSUN men’s volleyball team may not have been champions on the court this season, but they were number one in the classroom.
Eight matadors were Mountain Pacific Sports Federation academic all-conference selections this season for maintaining a 3.0 or better, grade point average while competing in at least 50 percent of the team’s games.
The average was more than any other school in the conference.
“We’re real proud of it,” said CSUN men’s head volleyball coach, Jeff Campbell. “We’ve had the highest GPA in the conference four to five years in a row.”
Campbell said academic performance is critical to coaches when they evaluate and recruit players. NCAA rules require a student-athlete to maintain a 2.0 GPA to be eligible to compete, however, Campbell requires his players to maintain a 3.0.
“We meet several times during a semester about grades,” Campbell said. “It’s very important to our staff.”
The honorees include seniors Matt Bellante, Cary Hanson and Brian Waite, junior James Lischer, sophomores Travis Bluemling, Isaac Kneubuhl and Aaron Schneider, and freshman Eric Vance.
Campbell believes the teams academic success translates to wins on the court. He said if the players are able to stay in school for three or four years it is much easier to build team cohesion.
The matadors compiled a 18-11 record this season that culminated in a trip to the MPSF conference tournament where they lost to Pepperdine in the quarterfinals.
During the regular season, the team went on a winning streak that lasted nearly a month while beating top-ten teams, including USC, Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara (twice) and Pepperdine.
“We peaked in the middle of the season,” said outside hitter Vance. “Playing well at the end is what counts.”
Vance, undeclared major, earned a 3.67 GPA last semester while balancing volleyball and classes.
“At first it was kind of overwhelming, but you get into a rhythm with practice and homework and studying for tests,” he said.
During the season, the team meets five days a week for practice and weight training. Vance designates time at the beginning and end of each day for school work.
The Academic Services for Student-Athletes tracks an athlete’s academic performance through databases. If a student-athlete’s grades begin to slip, the ASSA has two support programs to help them improve. The program provides a mentoring program to help students with life management skills and a tutoring program that focuses on main subjects, such as math and writing skills.
Campbell prefers to spend more time on the court and less time worrying about whether his players are academically ineligible, said Mandie McConkey, coordinator of the ASSA. She said the academic values Campbell instilled in his team resulted in the players motivating each other to succeed academically.
“If everyone’s paying attention and working hard in class it helps us click and play well on the court.” Vance said.
Kneubuhl, a kinesiology major originally from Hawaii, earned a GPA of 3.58.
“You have to try to juggle the sport you love and what you’re primarily there for is to go to class.” Kneubuhl said.
He said he is proud of the players’ accomplishment because he feels it breaks down the stereotype that athletes are bad students who coast through school without doing real work.
For him, prosperity in school is imperative.
“When I’m doing well in class I feel better on the court,” he said.
The number of CSUN players honored by the MPSF was more than academic powerhouses UCLA (four), BYU (two) and Stanford (six).
“That’s an elite group we’re in,” Kneubuhl said.
This was the final season for three of the honorees.
Bellante, Hanson, and three-time all-American ,Waite graduated in spring. Twelve incoming recruits, who will replace them, will be held to the same academic standards as their predecessors.
“Not all of them will make the team,” Kneubuhl said. “It will be a new group mixed with some veterans- a little different feeling, but a positive change.”
Campbell is applying a wait-and-see attitude to next year’s team.
With the players he will lose and the new recruits he will gain, Campbell said it is difficult to say how successful the team will be.
“The most important thing to us is high graduation rates and successful student-athletes.” Campbell said.