110 Cougars earn Scholar Athlete recognition

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Student-athletes throughout the Mountain West Conference spent the 2010-2011 season proving that athlete stereotypes are anything but true.

The MWC announced on Tuesday that a record-breaking 581 students received Scholar Athlete recognition this year, well surpassing the previous record of 549 honorees in 2009. The designation singles out athletes that have achieved a grade point average of at least 3.5 while participating in NCAA athletics.

Of the 110 Cougars named Scholar Athletes, 39 hail from the men’s and women’s track teams, followed by 15 from the swimming and diving teams. Representatives from 17 of the 19 NCAA sports BYU athletes compete in were recognized for their athletic achievements.

Even among these BYU athletes, some performances stood out more than others. Track and field’s Elizabeth Portanova and Elizabeth Ricks joined Nicole Ernst of the women’s soccer team and Chad Sorensen of the men’s swimming and diving squad among an elite group of athletes who have been able to maintain a full 4.0. Jennifer Hamson, who as a freshman maintained a 3.63 while playing for both the women’s volleyball and basketball teams, is one of less than 50 scholar athletes conference-wide to compete in two sports.

Michael Pinegar, athletic faculty representative, spoke highly of the athletes, noting the athletic administration is pleased with the athletes’ academic accomplishments, especially given the various pressures on their time.

“Maintaining a 3.5 is difficult for other students who aren’t involved in athletic competition so to do so speaks very highly of our athletes,” Pinegar said. “Students who achieve recognition as scholar athletes are self-disciplined, driven, hard-working young men and women. They are innately great students who push themselves both athletically and academically, and we are very proud of them.”

Freshman tennis player Callie Craig maintained a 3.82 while working her way to the All-MWC singles and doubles teams along with her twin sister Kelsie, who also achieved scholar-athlete status. Balancing the two is something Craig has had to do for many years, but it does not come without sacrifice.

“Most days I get up at 3 or 4 a.m. to study,” Craig said. ” Then I have early classes before I go to practice. Afterward I’ll grab something to eat and study some more, so I don’t really have balance in terms of a social life.”

With the support provided by her sister and a sense of accomplishment from doing well at school, she said she is able to motivate herself.

“It’s a boost of confidence to know that I can accomplish something other than sports,” Craig said. “I give my best effort no matter what. When I’m on the court, that’s my job [but] when it comes down to it, school kind of takes priority.”

Senior running back Bryan Kariya has also had to make school a priority. The Chinese major has a 3.89 GPA and has worked hard throughout his BYU career to be a competitive candidate for dental school.

“Working for something, having a real goal set in mind makes it a lot easier to be dedicated to studying when it’s not always the funnest thing to do,” Kariya said.

He credits the academic support he receives through the student-athlete academic center, as well as his family.

“My wife has been awesome,” Kariya said. “During the school year she really tries to take off as much burden as she can so I can focus on school and football. My family in general understands that I have a lot of work to do so they try to help me out as much as they can.”

Kariya is one of BYU’s 11 football scholar athletes, which is more than twice as many than any other team in the conference. He chalks up the academic success of the football team as a whole to coach Bronco Mendenhall’s own focus.

“Our team just hit the 3.0 GPA mark for the first time ever, which is really a big thing for our program,” Kariya said, offering congratulations to his teammates. “It’s something coach Mendenhall has been encouraging us to get to, and hopefully we can continue that.”

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