Of the 136 Dalhousie Tigers students to achieve Academic All-Canadian status during the 2019-20 season, 35 — about 25 percent — were soccer players.
Both the women's and men's teams placed fourth in regular play during the 2019-20 season, earning a berth in the Atlantic University Sport championship quarter-final round before being eliminated by their opponents. Eighteen women and 17 men of the 22 players on each of the active rosters earned a GPA of 3.5 or above to be named an Academic All-Canadian, something that women’s head coach Cindy Tye attributes to the quality of student-athletes she’s targeting to join the team.
“A solid academic background is critical to a smooth transition to being a university student-athlete,” she says. “We’ve placed a very high priority on incoming student-athlete marks as we believe solid students have the discipline and commitment needed to follow through on their studies and that carries over in other facets of their life.”
That philosophy seems to be working as nine of the 18 players who were named Academic All-Canadians finished their first or second seasons at Dalhousie last year. The women’s team has a history of academic success, averaging 12 Academic All-Canadians each season over the last five years.
Tye believes that success comes from modelling the behaviour of veteran student-athletes.
“When they are surrounded by others with similar academic goals, they find support in each other and are reminded daily of the good habits needed to find success,” she adds.
Two prime examples of that are Maya Venkatarman and Paige Jamieson who earned their fourth Academic All-Canadian awards in their last years with the Tigers. A two-time team MVP, Venkataraman played four seasons with the Tigers while earning a Bachelor of science with a major in medical sciences. The two-time AUS all-star is currently enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia. A native of Summerland, B.C., she attributes a lot of her success to the supports she received at Dalhousie.
“Dalhousie’s athletic program has great supports in place which allowed me to strive for success on the field and in the classroom,” says Venkataraman. “Coach Tye was one of my biggest supporters, helping me find balance in soccer, school, and other aspects of my life. This balance largely helped me prepare to get ready for medical school after I graduated from Dal.”
The Black & Gold Academic Support Program provides Dalhousie student-athletes with resources to assist them in achieving their academic goals. It is a mandatory program for first year student-athletes and optional for all others. The program includes study skill seminars, study halls, sponsored tutoring, and academic support.
Those supports have helped fourth-year men’s soccer goalkeeper Ben Grondin develop a plan to balance academics and athletics on his way to earning his third Academic All-Canadian award last year.
“I’ve developed a routine to balance the demands of being a student-athlete and get right back to it if I miss a day,” says the two-time AUS all-star. “I think it’s important to get out of the house to study, especially now with all of our classes online. I treat athletics as a break from my studies, an opportunity to relieve some stress and be social.”
Most of the 17 Academic All-Canadians on the men’s team were in their third, fourth or fifth years of school. Among them were Jacob Bolton and Sam Prystupa who both graduated last May after earning their fourth Academic All-Canadian awards.
Men’s head coach Alan Jazic takes great pride in the success of his student-athletes both on and off the pitch.
“I’m very proud to have such high-achieving students,” he says. “I believe sport teaches important life lessons and develops core values that are essential to success. Competition builds confidence and motivation which translates to the classroom. Participation in sports while pursuing academic excellence teaches you to prioritize your time. Using weekends and travel to study and meet deadlines. The Black & Gold Academic Success Program we offer is a key component in the success of our athletes in their academic pursuits.”
Tye, who also serves as the athletic department’s manager of high performance, stresses the need for balance and the flexibility required to achieve it.
“We expect all of our student-athletes to organize themselves to balance academics and athletics,” she adds. “However, if they are having a tough day or week, they can communicate that, and we will work with them and their schedule to make sure they feel good about their academics. Sometimes a little flexibility goes a long way.”
The soccer teams were amongst the 136 Dalhousie student-athletes from the 2019-20 season who were honoured earlier this week in a pre-recorded virtual celebration in lieu of the annual Academic All-Canadian Luncheon.
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