Volleyball and basketball teams enjoyed academic success during summer sessions

GREAT RIO VALLEY – Summer doesn’t mean days off for student-athletes at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The work the Vaqueros did in the classroom this summer is an example of that.

Throughout the 2022 summer sessions, 38 student-athletes from UTRGV’s men’s and women’s volleyball and basketball teams completed at least one course and excelled in class. Volleyball notched a cumulative summer GPA of 3.68, the men’s basketball team had a 3.44 GPA, and the women’s basketball team combined for a 3.38 GPA.

“Summer is so useful. We offer a lot of support and when there are only a few teams in the summer, they get our attention a lot. It’s so important to take advantage of the opportunity,” said the assistant director of sports for academic services. Letty Hernandez said. “Once their seasons start, as much as we anticipate, hiccups can occur. The summer is crucial because the one or two courses they take will help them stay on track to graduate. We emphasize summer school for student-athletes because there’s no travel, the campus is much quieter, it’s easier to focus with less distractions It’s great to have the coaches and the administrative staff on board.

UTRGV coaches encourage student-athletes to attend summer school and use the resources provided to them at the Victory Center in the Academic Services building, where Hernandez and academic board staff work. The Victory Center offers tutors, a computer lab, a learning lab, group and individual study areas, and other resources student-athletes may need to achieve their academic goals.

Fourteen members of the volleyball team took summer courses. Junior Ioanna Charitonidi took two courses in the summer. This was her second time taking summer school and this opportunity is something she is grateful for.

“Summer classes are great because you go through the material faster and you don’t have to worry about that in the fall during the season. It lightens the load,” Charitonidi said. “Coach Todd Lowery really want us to have these summer classes so we can get to campus earlier and start bonding with the team and practice all together, get in the weight room so that’s really important for the academics but also for the team. It’s not just about being good at volleyball, but Coach Lowery also pushes us to push our limits on the academic side. It’s great to have a coach who doesn’t just care about wins or losses. He also tries to make us better people.”

The men’s basketball team had 13 student-athletes taking at least one summer course. Hernandez praised the team for being “on the spot” to stress summer school, especially for freshmen/newcomers, and said the head coach Matt Figger makes it clear to his team that they are students first and that he wants to see them graduate.

Junior Daylen Williams, a college transfer, took her first summer course and earned an A in political science. He expressed his appreciation for Hernandez and all the benefits offered at Victory Center and was happy to have spent time this summer focusing on academics.

“To be honest, I liked taking the summer course. It was a good idea,” Williams said. “Taking this class prepared me and let me know what to expect for the fall. It helped the team build chemistry because some of us took the same classes, so we always help each other in the work. We appreciate all the help of our advisors. They do a lot for us.”

Eleven female basketball student-athletes have taken at least one summer course, including a freshman Charlotte O’Keefewho said she enjoyed the experience because it made the transition from high school to college easier.

“I’m glad I took a summer course. My course was online and I have three of my five courses online this fall semester, so it really helped me get used to Blackboard and to set my own schedule,” O’Keefe said. “In high school, you finished at a certain point and everything was handed over to you. In middle school, you’re much more alone and it’s a busier schedule. The workload is certainly very different. Our counselor is really good and it’s good to have him as a resource, and we also have tutors.”

Advisor to student-athletes André Padron, himself a former UTRGV student-athlete, works with the women’s volleyball and basketball teams. His role, like Hernandez’s, is to help Vaqueros enroll in classes and master their busy workloads. He knows firsthand the demands a student-athlete faces, and he’s proud of the resources he and the UTRGV offer to push Vaqueros to their potential and to see student-athletes put them to good use.

“Being a student-athlete is a full-time job,” Padron said. “They do 20 hours on the competition field, they spend 3-6 hours in class in the summer and in the fall/spring it’s more like 15 hours, then they have 6-10 hours of study a week. It’s hard enough, but these student-athletes go above and beyond. They understand that academics are important. They’re student-athletes, and they take that’student’ part of their title heavily.

“It’s a testament to them and their coaches and to the department as a whole of how well we take care of student-athletes,” he added. “We understand it’s not just on the pitch. The educational side is really important, so when they’re done competing they’ll have something to fall back on, and that’s a degree.”

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