STORY BY MONTANA SPORTS INFORMATION
MISSOULA – Nearly half of Montana’s 300-plus student-athletes have undergone a change to their head coach in the last 18 months, from Shannon Schweyen taking over the Lady Griz from Robin Selvig in August 2016 to Kris Nord this week assuming leadership of the women’s golf program.
Jason Brown has been filling in for Nord on an interim basis with the men’s tennis team, Allison Lawrence recently concluded her first year as head of the volleyball program, and Melanie Meuchel was elevated to head coach of the softball team in October.
Not to mention the 97 football players who saw their head coach change from Bob Stitt to Bobby Hauck in late November, just in time for the most critical weeks of the fall semester.
And yet the department’s academic successes roll on, almost as if they are unhindered by any of the disruptions.
“I’ve always known our No. 1 priority is to walk out of here with a degree, so I’ve never felt like a coaching change has had to affect how I do in the classroom,” said Mykaela Hammer of the Griz volleyball program, who just had a 3.86 semester as a marketing and management major.
Hammer’s experience would make as convenient an excuse as any to explain away some academic slippage. She redshirted in what would be Jerry Wagner’s final season as coach. She played two years under Brian Doyon before he was released and is now playing for Lawrence, or coach No. 3.
Who could blame Hammer if so much uncertainty had an impact on her academics, if she let her mind wander into the world of what-ifs instead of the subject matter at hand? Except she, like so many of her fellow Grizzlies, just hasn’t let it happen.
“Change happens all the time. I learned early on that I would have to handle whatever came my way during my career and make the best of the situation,” she said.
Not to be overlooked amidst all the change within the coaching ranks is the consistency provided by Montana’s three academic advisors, Jen Zellmer-Cuaresma, Grace Gardner and Charity Atteberry.
Led by Jean Gee, Montana’s senior associate AD who oversees all things academic for the Grizzlies, the three advisors keep the department’s student-athletes eligible and on track to graduate, no matter what kind of upheaval may be happening within their coaching staffs.
“College-age folks are far more resilient than we think,” said UM Director of Athletics Kent Haslam. “We have great coaches who are recruiting great student-athletes who are focused on their primary goal, which is to graduate while trying to win championships.”
Montana’s student-athletes had an average semester GPA of 3.09 for the fall, with their average cumulative GPA coming in at 3.16, making it 25 consecutive semesters the Grizzlies, past and present, have kept their cumulative GPA at 3.0 or better.
“We have a great academic infrastructure in place, we have coaches who hold their athletes accountable for their academic performance, and we have student-athletes who believe their academics are important,” said Haslam. “That’s a recipe for success.”
Ten of Montana’s 13 programs had a semester GPA of 3.0 or better for the fall, led by the men’s tennis team’s 3.57. Mark Plakorus’s women’s soccer team, which has more than five times as many countable athletes as does the tennis team, making it that much more impressive, came in a close second at 3.5.
It was the third consecutive semester the men’s tennis team has registered a GPA of 3.5 or better and the eighth straight term coming in above 3.3.
It was the eighth consecutive semester for the soccer team to be above 3.4 and made it 14 straight terms it has been at 3.19 or better since Plakorus was hired in January 2011.
Coach Steve Ascher’s women’s tennis team had a 3.44 GPA for the fall, making it seven of the last eight semesters his Grizzlies have been at 3.4 or better.
Softball came in at 3.34, the program’s best term in its short history, women’s cross country at 3.26, women’s golf at 3.23, women’s track and field at 3.22, men’s cross country at 3.17, men’s track and field at 3.10 and women’s basketball at 3.00.
His squad’s fall performance made it six consecutive semesters coach Brian Schweyen’s men’s track and field team has had a term GPA better than 3.0. In the previous 31 semesters of the record-keeping era, which dates back to 1999, the team had no 3.0s.
The volleyball team had a term GPA of 2.84 but still has an average cumulative GPA of 3.01. Football came in at 2.81, men’s basketball at 2.72 for the fall, but both programs have average cumulative GPAs in the 2.9s, with football at 2.94, men’s basketball at 2.91.