VIU in the News - M's at the Top of the Class

January 15, 2014 - 1:00am

By Josh Aldrich, Nanaimo Daily News

The Vancouver Island University Mariners athletics department is doing their best to dispel the stereotype of the dumb jock.

On Jan. 15, they announced they set a new school record with 47 athletes on the university's academic excellence list for the fall semester.

The team with the top grade point average was women's volleyball, led by second year power Megan Groenendijk who topped all athletes.

It has been a lot of hard work for Groenendijk as she balances all aspects of being a student athlete.

"It's really stressful, you have to time manage, and I've learned already how to do that better," she said. "I always wonder what it would be like to be just a student."

To qualify for the academic excellence list, a student must carry at least a B+ average through a minimum of nine credits.

Groenendijk is has a grade point average of 4.28, her best mark through three semesters at VIU. The university grades on the 4.0 system, so Groenendijk's marks put her among the top students on campus. What's even more impressive is that it has coincided with an increased role on the volleyball. She was thrust into the starting lineup just before the Pacific Western Athletic Association season opener, as fifth year veteran Paige Weibe went down with a knee injury.

The five-foot-10 power already has 81 kills through eight weeks this season. She had 34 as a reserve player in her freshman campaign, for which she was named to the PacWest all-rookie team.

"It's cool to be able to display your skills when it really matters, not just in practice," said Groenendijk. "It's a lot of fun. I love being on the court, I love the pressure that it brings, even though it can be a little overwhelming at times when you are stressed out over school."

Head coach Shane Hyde is not surprised in the least in either Groenendijk's on court or classroom performance. "She's a perfectionist," he said. "She's always been a great student, that was one of the reasons we took her. I knew how good she was academically and I knew that would translate onto the court."

Being a good student is not something Groenendijk fluked into. She turned into a good student at Duncan Christian School. She realized, after elementary school, that to do well in school it will require a lot of work, especially home work. But it was work she enjoyed, delving heavily into the sciences and away from electives and English courses.

"I just enjoy learning about all the cool things in science," said Groenendijk.

She has carried those principles over to her studies at VIU, which also includes a commute home to Chemainus every night.

She is in the Bachelor of Science program with an eye to becoming an X-ray technician. She wants to be able to help sick and injured people.

This semester's total of 47 athletes broke the previous park at VIU of 46, previously hit in 2008 and 2011.

The women's volleyball team totaled eight athletes on the list, though women's soccer had the highest total with 12. The badminton team had eight athletes make the cut while men's soccer had six, women's basketball five, and men's basketball and golf four each. The only program not to put an athlete on the list was men's volleyball, last year's top team, according to athletic director Bruce Hunter.

"We do consider our athletes to be students first, they are student athletes," he said. "To have 47 of them on the academic excellence list, it's almost 50 per cent of our athletes."

Where this list also is important is when it comes to academic all-Canadian selections. To be in the running for this award, athletes must be on the academic excellence list and then make a conference all-star team. Last season, VIU lead the nation with nine academic all-Canadians, and had a school record 11 all-Canadians in 2011.

Hyde says the women's volleyball team - in contention for another national championship - takes as much pride in its offcourt performance as it does its on-court success.

It is a category they used to dominate, but had been about three years since they last held the designation.

"It's extremely important, it's something we strive for every year," he said.

The life of a student athlete is not an easy one at PacWest schools. None of them are paying for future lucrative contracts, though the rare athlete may eventually play pro in Europe. The vast majority is working towards a career in something other than the sport they are playing.

On top of the same studies every other student has, they are spending long hours in the gym working out, practicing with the team and travelling to games.

"It's extremely disappointing for me when I hear regular students talk about them, 'They're just jocks,' or 'they get extra help all the time,'" said Hyde.

"That's not the case. These girls put in so much extra time with their sport; to achieve good marks here at the university is extremely tough. They're doing things like writing midterms on ferries with me supervising or in hotel rooms, studying on bus trips or writing papers till three in the morning because they've been competing every Friday and Saturday.

"The amount of sacrifice these guys put into their athletics and then added to their academics, they really have no life outside of school and volleyball."

The volleyball program hosts the Capilano University Blues this weekend with the women playing at 6 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday. The men play at 8 p.m. on Friday and 3 p.m. on Saturday.

Though the women (14-2; 44:10) are the top team in the province this year, they are expecting a tough weekend from the Blues (8-6; 27:24), who are fourth in the PacWest.

"Capilano is one of those teams that play us really hard," said Hyde. "They've got some really good offensive players that you have to be aware of. They're definitely a team that can upset us, so we have to bring our 'A' game."

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