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    January 9, 2023 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Matching the 3.35 cumulative grade-point average recorded last spring, Liberty University’s Club Sports student-athletes continued to thrive academically as well as in their respective sports this past fall semester.

    Of the department’s 45 distinct programs, 44 achieved cumulative GPAs of 3.0 or higher, led by men’s and women’s racquetball, with its 16 student-athletes averaging 3.72 cumulatively.

    Individually, 362 out of the record-high 711 student-athletes participating on Club Sports teams made the Dean’s List with GPAs of 3.5 or higher and a total of 135 maintained perfect 4.0 averages.

    “Speaking for all of Club Sports, for every team except one to have over a 3.0 GPA is superb for us,” Club Sports Assistant Director of Compliance and men’s swimming Head Coach Heath Grishaw said, noting that the only one not to make the cut posted a 2.98 average mark. “That speaks volumes for the academic staff, and to watch all of these athletes be competitive in the classroom as well as in their sport is exciting. It was a great semester for us, and we are really excited about what the spring semester is going to look like.”

    Club Sports Director of Academic Advancement Sarah Kelly credits her staff, including Grishaw and Assistant Director Donna Holland, who kept the office running smoothly while she was on maternity leave through early October.

    “Donna and Heath took the load, and a lot of my staff and their graduate assistants dispersed everything, and they did a great job of covering everything so that when I came back in I was able to hit the ground running and pick right back up where I left off,” she said. “It was great to have the support of a team.”

    Grishaw said Kelly has continued to raise the bar as far as expectations within Club Sports for its student-athletes.

    “She’s worked so hard in our academic department and really taken it to a new and higher standard,” he said.

    Early in her career in academic advising through Club Sports, Kelly received foundational support from Liberty’s NCAA Senior Associate Athletics Director for Academic Affairs Kristie Beitz.

    Kelly said the quality of character and work ethic of Liberty’s Club Sports recruits has elevated the program’s overall performances in the classroom as well as in the athletic arena.

    “We have student-athletes pursing nursing and engineering and even teaching degrees, which are very demanding and time-consuming majors, and they seem to be able to manage it,” she said. “Our students take a little over 15 credits per semester, so they are shouldering a large load of academics. That is a testament to their time management skills and their ability to balance their priorities.”

    Kelly said a large part of her department’s success stems from its mentoring program, which she established in her second year on the job in 2015-16. The office had three mentors this past semester: Holland, Chase Talley, and Spiritual Development Coordinator and Division III men’s hockey Head Coach Josh Graham. New LU Dance Head Coach Kristan Ware has been hired to replace the Talley, who is starting a new job this spring.

    “Our goal is to approach (the student-athletes) as freshmen and spend that first semester really investing in them,” Kelly said. “It is a large adjustment to independent living, and we try to come alongside them and give them a little bit of a failsafe so that they’re able to succeed or know when they need to ask for help. We are setting them up for success and working toward that, and if they are struggling, we will invest in them a little more. The mentors meet with them weekly so they can catch those problems and problem solve before it’s too late.”

    Another huge asset to the student-athletes’ academic success is the Club Sports tutoring program, which had five tutors this past fall coordinated by Assistant Athletic Director Dr. Jonathan Chung.

    “They provide tutoring in the essential courses students struggle in, especially math and sciences, and connect with them on a personal level,” Kelly said, noting that Chung, who serves in an academic integration role, has helped student-athletes get connected with practical applications for what they are studying. “He is bringing in real-life experiences for using their degrees practically and has been a great help to our athletes and other departments as well.”

    Assistant Athletic Director Reese Braband as well as Graham and fellow Spiritual Development Coordinator Heather Gollnick help strengthen the third pillar to the holistic development of the successful student-athlete.

    “Overall, knowing they have the spiritual guidance and spiritual leaders on their teams helping and investing in them, it is a well-rounded support system, which is phenomenal to have,” Kelly said.

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer