A winning combination
For Loyola’s student athletes, success in sports is outscored only by achievements in the classroom
By Alexandra Jonker
Coming off of back-to-back NCAA championships, the Loyola Rambler men’s volleyball team began the 2016 season with a seven-game winning streak. Meanwhile, women’s volleyball had their best season in over a decade, reaching 20 wins for the first time since 2004 and making it to the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) tournament for the first time. Men’s and women’s soccer are also on a roll, with both teams having standout performances in last year’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
Although these are impressive stats, perhaps even more impressive are the success rates of Loyola’s student athletes in another arena—the classroom. The Ramblers have a graduation success rate (GSR) of 98 percent, tying Loyola for third place nationally alongside such elite schools as Columbia, Harvard, Notre Dame, Princeton, and Yale. This is the highest-ever GSR recorded for Loyola athletics and marks the sixth consecutive year the department has seen improvement.
Loyola also scores high on the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR), a team-based metric based on the eligibility, retention, and graduation of scholarship student athletes. Of Loyola’s 11 athletics programs, 10 had a perfect APR of 1,000 for 2014-2015 and eight have a perfect multiyear score.
“We are extremely proud of how our student athletes perform both in competition and in the classroom,” says Loyola Director of Athletics Steve Watson. “The NCAA data shows that we are on the right track in preparing our student athletes for life after Loyola, and the fact that we have done that while maintaining a high level of success on the playing fields shows how special Loyola can be.”
So to what, or whom, do these students owe their success? For student athletes like Jake Mazanke, the answer is twofold: first, to themselves and second, to their support system of coaches, academic advisors, and fellow athletes.
Mazanke, a senior journalism major, has been a record-breaking track and field star during his time with the Ramblers. In the 2014-2015 season, Mazanke clocked the third-fastest 600m time in school history (1:18.56) and finished first at the Indiana Relays. He was also runner-up in the 800m at the Meyo Invitational with the second-fastest time in school history (1:48.57), and was a member of the distance medley relay team that broke the school record at the Alex Wilson Invitational.
Off the field he’s been involved in multiple student organizations and interned with the Big Ten Network, all while maintaining a 3.92 GPA. His accomplishments have earned him the Missouri Valley Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Week honor three times since coming to Loyola.
“Being a part of the team has pushed me academically because it holds me accountable to get things done,” Mazanke says. “Not only do I have to stay on top of things to be eligible, but for me personally, our team GPA is really important. I want our team to do well in the classroom as well. I take that very seriously, almost as much as my own athletic performance.”
For freshman nursing student Maddy Moser, the transition from high school to college athletics required only “a little bit of adjusting.” As a member of the women’s volleyball team, she’s in good company: In addition to winning 20 games this season they earned the AVCA Team Academic Award, given to teams that maintain at least a 3.30 cumulative GPA. Moser contributed to the team’s success both on the court and by maintaining a 4.0 GPA in her first semester, which also earned her a spot on the dean’s list. She credits Loyola with helping players stay on track academically.
“There are a lot of resources at Loyola,” she says. “We have our academic advisors, which help a lot. And then Norville is a place where we can all study, and our academic advisors will help us get set up with tutors if we need them.”
“We take great pride in our student athletes and build strong relationships with them,” says Patricia Hoffmann, senior academic advisor to student athletes. That includes directing students to resources such as tutors and the Writing Center, assisting with pre-registration advising, and monitoring academic performance up through graduation.
Students learn early on how to coordinate their course syllabi with their academic calendar and the demands of their sport, helping them to strike a balance between the two. “We provide the resources for success,” says Hoffmann, “but the student athletes are the ones who challenge themselves each and every day to be the best they can be in competition and in the classroom.”
Chris Muscat, now in his fourth season as head coach of Loyola’s women’s volleyball, tries to emphasize long-term thinking for student athletes. “I think that it’s a balance between trying to make sure that volleyball is a priority for them, which takes up a lot of hours, but also what is equally important for them—the 60 years after their athletic career here is done,” Muscat says.
Women’s soccer head coach Barry Bimbi ascribes to the same philosophy as Muscat when it comes to the academics of his players. “We talk a lot of big picture, like post graduate life, especially with those kids that are really struggling with academics,” says Bimbi. “It’s like this: You are not really going to be a professional soccer player, you are going to be someone in the business world or a doctor or a physical therapist. So we try to get them focused on life after their four years here.”
However, when it comes down to it, excellence may just be inherent in what it means to be a Loyola Rambler.
“For us, not only recruiting great athletes but recruiting the right people who we hope can have academic success here is pretty important,” says Muscat. “I think I would attribute a great deal of the recent success to the quality of student athlete we are able to recruit to a school like Loyola—one that has a great academic reputation.”