INDIANAPOLIS -- Kristin Day’s diving has been perfect enough.
Since 2013, no other female diver in Division II has won a national championship. Day swept the 1- and 3-meter titles at the 2014 DII Swimming and Diving Championships, breaking a national scoring record in the 3-meter. Thursday night at IUPUI Natatorium, she won the 1-meter for her third consecutive national title. Saturday, a possible fourth title awaits her in the 3-meter competition.
And then there’s the classroom at Clarion.
Day, a chemistry major who is in the honors program, has a perfect 4.0 grade-point average. She has an academic concentration in biochemistry and a minor in psychology. All that earned her the prestigious NCAA Elite 89 award which was presented to her in a surprise earlier this week at the annual DII championships awards banquet in Indianapolis.
“I was surprised, really,” Day said. “It really meant a lot.”
Day is among a strong group of academic achievers at the DII Swimming and Diving Championships, which includes at least two others with a 4.0 GPA. Soren Holm, a sophomore at Wayne State, finished third in Friday night’s 100-yard butterfly and won the men’s Elite 89 award. A biological sciences major, Holm also has a 4.0 GPA.Three-time national champion Joyce Kwok of LIU Post, who finished third in the women’s 200-yard butterfly finals Friday, was a Scholar All-America First Team selection last year.
LIU women’s team had the best grades among Division II women’s swim teams in fall 2014, posting a 3.71 average GPA. Two-time defending women’s champion Drury and Queens University of Charlotte, were each among the top four. Catawba College was the top men’s team with a 3.69 GPA.
Brains and swimming do mix.
“I agree that athletics definitely helps your academics because it keeps you focused,” said Day, who is headed for Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine after graduation from Clarion.
Clarion diving coach Dave Hrovat, a 23-time NCAA Diving Coach of the Year, is understandably proud of Day. And that’s saying something because among Hrovat’s past students is Jamie Wolf, a seven-time national champion from 2004 to 2007 who also had a 4.0 GPA at Clarion and went on to earn a PhD in molecular genetics at Ohio State.
“It’s remarkable,” Hrovat said. “And you go back in time, and there’s a ton of great student-athletes. That’s what it’s all about. When you look at this as a whole, whether an individual is winning championships or not, it’s about going through and getting your degree, moving on.”
The academic performances hit home with Wingate coach Kirk Sanocki, whose women’s teams have won the Scholar All-America award all 27 semesters that Sanocki has been coach. Among his top student-athletes this year is Kellie Gervas, a senior and one of seven Wingate women swimmers at the championships.“I think that you should be striving to be the best you can be in any endeavor in life,” Sanocki said. “And it’s always very important for us to have our academics parallel our athletics. And in a lot of instances, I think our academics exceed our athletics.”
While Drury has strongly succeeded by winning 10 consecutive men’s national team titles and five women’s team titles in six years, academics is also a staple of the program led by longtime head coach Brian Reynolds.
“I think as a team, the coaches really instill that [academics] in us as the number one importance on our team,” said Leah Reed, a senior who has a 3.7 GPA and is headed for occupational therapy school after graduation. “Your GPA and grades are everything in the real world because swimming stops after your senior year. If we need time to study, they’re more than willing to help us out.”
Friday night, Reed swam the first leg of Drury’s second-place finish in the 800-yard freestyle relay.
One of the most unique student-athletes might be Wingate’s Lucas Cuadros, a sophomore from Colombia who is enrolled in the school’s entrepreneurship program. He is a walking think tank.
“All the time I’m thinking new ideas,” said Cuadros, who made his national championship debut this week on Wingate’s relay squads.
“There will be nothing to hold him back,” Sanocki said.
Cuadros is living a dream, and he has a 3.94 GPA to back it up.
“It’s a huge personal learning experience, both in academics because of the entrepeneur program and in sports because it has allowed me to know myself better in every aspect of my life,” Cuadros said. “It’s really huge. Overcoming of my fears, overcoming of my limits. It’s been awesome. I just love it.”
In addition to the classroom grades, Sanocki believes strongly in his athletes growing and getting stronger independently. It is a life lesson.
“I think the No. 1 thing that we’re trying to accomplish at Wingate University is giving our kids a sense of independence that when they go out in the world, they know how to problem solve,” he said.
“I think it’s one of the bigger issues today. We don’t want to micromanage things for them, we don’t want to do them for them, but we want them to know no matter what endeavor you go into, there are always going to be people there to help you. But you have to be able to take the information, problem solve and grow from that.”