Winning in the Classroom

By:
Evan Rosenfeld and Adam Gonzales

At the UA, student-athletes have access to a range of programs and support. Among them is the nationally recognized Commitment to an Athlete’s Total Success program, known as CATS, which offers individualized academic tutoring and other services. 

Success on the field and in the classroom seem to go hand-in-hand for some teams.

The UA women’s soccer team placed 12 members on the Pac-12 Conference All-Academic team after their season ended in November. 

Since arriving at the UA in 1985, four-time National Coach of the Year Mike Candrea has led the softball program to 1,391 victories, 21 trips to the College World Series, and eight NCAA championships, while boasting a graduation rate higher than 99 percent.

“If you’re not hacking it academically, we aren’t going to tolerate it,” Candrea says. “We take academics very seriously. I feel like I’m not doing my job if a player doesn’t walk out of here with a degree.”

UA football Head Coach Rich Rodriguez calls special attention to academic performance.

“I tell our team that’s why I think people go to college, to make a better life for themselves down the road working where they want to work,”  Rodriguez  says. “Football is an avenue for our guys to get out there and show themselves in the athletic world, but at the end of the day, when football is over, I hope they get the job that they want. Their education is going to allow them to do that.”

Among recent honors for the football team, the UA landed six student-athletes on the Pac-12 Conference All-Academic team in November. 

Zach Werlinger

Freshman quarterback Zach Werlinger thrived on and off the field in his senior year at Basha High School in Chandler before being recruited into the Arizona program. In December, he was named as one of five National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete honorees. Werlinger says he finished the fall semester with a 3.8 GPA.

“We have a lot of help with our academic staff and they are a great resource for us,” Werlinger says. “I have used them multiple times and they have done a great job. An important thing we have to remember as student-athletes is that we are going to school, too.”

Lacey Smyth

After the completion of the 2014 women’s tennis season — which saw the Wildcats compile a 17-6 record and reach the NCAA Tournament — Lacey Smyth ’14 was named the Pac-12 Women’s Tennis Scholar Athlete of the Year. Smyth was instrumental in leading the UA to one of its highest rankings in school history. 

Last July, Smyth was one of four UA student-athletes to be awarded a Pac-12 Scholarship for $3,000 toward her postgraduate studies. She held the highest GPA on the team at 3.79, majoring in elementary education. 

“Lacey was one of the hardest-working and most determined people I ever trained,” says Head Coach Vicky Maes. “Her desire to succeed in the classroom was just as important to her as achieving on the tennis court.”

Lauren Young

Lauren Young, UA softball’s starting third baseman and a junior in finance, balances a schedule that involves weight training in the morning, a full load of classes during the day, and then practice.

Young says the degree she is working toward will allow her to thrive. Last season, Young’s hard work was recognized when she was named as an honorable mention to the Pac-12 All-Academic team. 

Young says she would love to play softball professionally if the opportunity is available. However, she says that she also hopes to use her degree in finance to work in the sports industry.

“Academics play a very significant role in my life as a student-athlete,” she said. “I value my grades and study every day to make sure I’m getting the most out of my degree and my experience here at Arizona.” 

Bonnie Brandon

Four-time All-America backstroker Bonnie Brandon, a junior majoring in nutritional sciences, says the key to academic success is figuring out how to efficiently use rare pockets of free time.

After the 2013-14 season, Brandon was named a College Swimming Coaches Association of America Scholar All-American, an honor granted only to those who maintain at least a 3.5 GPA.

“It’s a lot of time management,” Brandon says. “You have to set up your priorities.”

“It’s really important for both your athletic career and academic performance to be on an even playing field — if not favoring academics,” Brandon says. “Your academics are what get you into grad school or get you jobs.”