It’s something Penn State women’s soccer coach Erica Dambach has instilled in her players and program: athletics and academics go “hand-in-hand.”
That was reaffirmed for her and several other Penn State programs.
On Wednesday, five Penn State teams received a Public Recognition Award from the NCAA for earning high scores in the most recent Academic Progress Rate (APR) compilation.
APR tracks academic progress of each student-athlete on scholarship at a particular institution, looking at eligibility, retention and graduation.
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The Penn State women’s soccer, wrestling, women’s cross country, women’s hockey and women’s tennis teams all achieved APR scores in the top 10 percent nationally for their respective sport through the 2014-15 academic year.
Two of those squads — women’s soccer and wrestling — won NCAA Championships in recent months.
Both Dambach and Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson are proud of their teams.
“We obviously want to win as a program,” Sanderson said, “but there’s more lasting and more important things in life than just winning wrestling matches.”
“When you talk about excellence, you talk about everything you do,” Dambach said. “The way that these student-athletes are living their lives within this program, it shows that they’re priorities are in order, they’re here to get a world-class education, and compete for a national championship. Everything else is secondary to those two priorities.”
Sanderson expects his wrestlers to “be the best that we can be in all areas.”
The coach said his program’s success in the classroom starts with recruiting.
“I think it’s just like you scout a wrestler for their ability on the mat, you also look at the numbers and their grades and the classes that they’re taking, and you can tell how important it is to them when you’re recruiting them,” Sanderson said.
Sanderson said it’s about trying to get the “right kind of kids” who value academics. He credits his wrestlers’ parents and mentors for helping them establish a desire to excel in the classroom.
Sanderson said he talks about academics on a regular basis.
But it’s more of a reminder to his team, like telling them to get ahead on their schoolwork before a road trip.
The coach doesn’t think much about his athletes graduating.
“I think it’s you’re going to college,” he said. “You graduate. It’s something that I think we expect, and I think they expect.”
Dambach echoed similar sentiments.
She also made sure to recognize the university’s Morgan Academic Support Center for Student-Athletes, and thank the soccer team’s academic counselor, Jim Weaver.
“We feel during the recruiting process, that that’s one of our differentiators,” Dambach said. “With all of the stress that they face, the resources available at Penn State are second to none.”
As for that current system — academics and athletics, hand-in-hand — Dambach said “if it’s not broken, don’t change it.”
“Set your goals high,” she noted, “and you can always achieve more.”