Griz reach new heights of academic success

MISSOULA — Spend more than two decades in softball at the Division I level, and more than that being around the sport in general, and a coach will see and experience some things.

There was the time long ago that Montana softball coach Jamie Pinkerton took his club team to Braum’s for lunch between tournament games in Pryor, Oklahoma, and had to squeeze with his players into the restaurant’s ice cream freezer when a tornado touched down just south of town.

And the time between innings at the old Lady’Back Yard at Arkansas when he slipped and bounced down the six steps into his team’s bunker-like dugout. He shook it off and continued coaching. Only later was it discovered that the fall had fractured his tailbone.

Or the time he witnessed a 5-6-4-3 triple play. Line drive off the third baseman’s glove, right to the shortstop. With the runners in motion, the shortstop flipped to second, who threw to first to complete the inning-ending play.

But he can’t remember ever seeing anything like this: Montana’s student-athletes had a spring-semester GPA of 3.14, with 10 of the department’s 13 programs having team GPAs of 3.0 or better. Seven of those had term GPAs of 3.2 or higher.

“What really stands out to me is how high some of the sports are. This is higher than places I’ve been,” said Pinkerton, who’s been the head coach at Tulsa and Arkansas and an assistant at Tulsa, Louisiana-Monroe, Virginia and Iowa State.

“As a whole athletic department, that’s great. It’s a real testament to the student-athletes we have.”

Montana’s 3.14 was its best semester on record, as is its 3.16 cumulative GPA, which factors in each student-athlete’s entire academic body of work at UM. It marks the 20th consecutive semester the department has had a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better.

For the fourth straight semester, the women’s cross country team, which had a 3.8 GPA in the spring, led the department. The men’s cross country team checked in at 3.4. Twenty-two of the two teams’ 23 athletes had term GPAs of 3.0 or better.

The Griz soccer team had a 3.45 for the spring semester, the women’s tennis team a 3.44. Both teams have had three straight semesters at 3.4 or higher.

Women’s track and field, which gets the benefit of using the cross country runners and their GPAs when they become distance runners for the indoor and outdoor track seasons, had a 3.33 in the spring, the team’s 19th straight semester at 3.2 or above.

Men’s tennis came in at 3.32, women’s golf at 3.25, volleyball at 3.15 and men’s track and field at 3.07. And Pinkerton’s softball team, despite being on the road for eight long road trips in the spring, finished at 3.18, an improvement from its 3.04 in the fall.

Fifteen of Pinkerton’s 20 players during Montana’s debut season were true freshmen. The team also had three transfers. Fifteen players on the team had spring GPAs of 3.0 or better.

“Being as young as we are, I was real pleased,” Pinkerton said. “I’ve found that freshmen usually come in and are 2.8 or 2.9 that first year, because they are inexperienced both on the field and in the classroom. Then once they figure it out, they anchor the team in later years.

“So I’m quite proud of our players and the improvements they made from the first semester to the second. I think the academic staff, Jen (Zellmer-Cuaresma) in particular, did a good job of picking the right classes, then the players did a good job with their time-management.”

Yet what most stuck out to Pinkerton — “I was shocked,” he said. “That’s amazing.” — was that the three programs that did not have a semester GPA of 3.0 were so close to giving Montana its first term with every team at 3.0 or above.

Women’s basketball finished the spring at 2.97, which snapped an 11-semester streak at 3.0 or higher, men’s basketball came in at 2.95, and the football team, in its first semester under Bob Stitt, matched its record with a 2.92.

And all of it took place as the department’s student-athlete academic center, which will be open for business when the fall semester begins, remained under construction next door to the Adams Center.

“Right now our study hall is in the football meeting room or in our office,” Pinkerton said. “It’s been cramped quarters. I expect everyone’s numbers to spike when the athletes have a convenient place to go that’s quiet.”

Eighteen of Montana’s 308 student-athletes, who on average took a load of 14.4 credits, had a spring-semester GPA of 4.0, 75 made the Dean’s List, and 208 had a term GPA of 3.0 or better. The UM student body as a whole had a 2.92 term GPA while taking 12.3 credits.

— Montana Sports Information

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