Longhorn PRIDE Student-Athletes of the Month: November
Each month, the University of Texas women's and men's athletic academic/student services staffs select a female and male student-athlete as the "Longhorn PRIDE Student-Athlete of the Month." PRIDE stands for "Personal Responsibility In Developing Excellence." The Longhorn PRIDE program, which has been singled out as one of the nation's best athletics "life skills" programs, supports student-athlete development in five areas: academics, athletics, personal development, career development and community service.
Women's Basketball Seniors
It is not uncommon for a perennial basketball powerhouse's roster to be filled with experienced seniors who have left their footprints on a program. It is rare, however, when a team has six of those seniors who not only have achieved countless accolades on the basketball court, but who also have excelled academically as well.
Thus is the situation with the No. 4 ranked Texas women's basketball team and its six seniors. As women's head basketball coach Jody Conradt notes, seniors Jody Bell, Kala Bowers, Jamie Carey, Annissa Hastings, Heather Schreiber and Mercedes Williams will clearly leave a legacy with the program that will not be forgotten. In addition to helping the Longhorns to a 2003 NCAA Final Four berth, to two NCAA Sweet 16 showings (2002 and 2004) and to back-to-back Big 12 regular season championships in 2003 and 2004, this group of seniors has been standout in the classroom as well.
"I think pretty obvious that they are the foundation of this team," Conradt said. "We're not only talking about players who have experience, but we're talking about really good players who are doing the job on the court and in the classroom as well."
Through Coach Conradt's illustrious tenure at Texas, she boasts an amazing 100 percent graduation rate for her student-athletes. Thus, it is not hard to see why these six seniors shared Student-Athlete of the Month honors.
"What's most significant about these seniors is that they've experienced a lot, so they can draw on that experience to help them get through most situations," Conradt said. "They are motivated about academics. They came here with intention of getting degrees from The University of Texas, and they've all been successful in that pursuit."
Bell, a native of Alberta, Canada who has been named to the Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll, is majoring in sports management.
"I grew up in an athletic family, and as soon as I could I was doing something athletically," Bell said. "I wanted to keep with that tradition, and sports management allows me to do that."
Bell earned her many scholarships by relentless dedication to her studies. "You have to make the smart choice to study a couple of hours when ever you have a chance, because the next day, with our practice and travel schedule, you don't know if you'll get that type of opportunity again," Bell said.
Bowers, an elementary education major, also has been named to the Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll. Kala, who aspires to teach and coach when she graduates, notes how difficult it can be to balance class work and practice and games. "Early on here at UT, I struggled to balance it all, but everyone on the coaching staff is really supportive and makes sure you get all the help you need," Bowers notes. "We have a great academic support staff here and they really have helped me. You have to get into a routine and get your work done on time."
Carey, nationally-recognized as an Academic All-American and a First Team Big 12 All-Academic Team performer, is in the unique situation of having finished her undergraduate studies (in sociology) and who is now pursuing a graduate degree in sport management. As demanding as her graduate courseload is, Carey manages to excel on and off the court – with her basketball talent reflected in her preseason honors as a Wade Trophy, Wooden Award and Naismith Award National Player of the Year candidate.
Having begun her collegiate career at another standout academic institution – Stanford – Carey has always put a premium on her academic studies.
"Academics has always been a real importance to me. It is a big stressor for me to try and balance basketball and grad school, but I love challenges," stated Carey. "Something I really stress when I go out and speak to kids is the importance of academics. Sometimes, a kid may hear the importance of excelling in both academics and sports from a parent or a teacher, but for them to hear it from a role model – a college student-athlete, someone they look up to - is a very different experience. Any academic award I've ever gotten means a little more to me than any athletic award or accomplishment. I think anyone can be a great athlete, but I think it takes a lot to be both a great athlete and great in the classroom. So, when I got the Academic All-America award, I was very very honored. It's good to be well-balanced, and I think it presents a lot of challenges which I like to take on."
Hastings, a member of the 2003 USA World University Games Team, is majoring in education. In November, she was honored for her classwork with the Longhorn Leaders program, which is associated with the Austin Independent School District and with the Austin Crime Association. The Longhorn Leaders program is made up of student-athletes who mentor adolescents in at-risk schools.
"We went to the schools to talk to kids about how we made it to UT, and what we had to go through to make it to this point," Hastings said. "It is really rewarding to talk to young kids and let them know that anything is possible. We also spent time going to Austin-area schools with police officers to try and erase negative stereotypes these may have of the police. Youngsters have this image that cops are bad, so the cops went with us to schools, and we let the kids know that they aren't the bad guys, and that they are here to help us," Hastings said.
Schreiber, a National Player of the Year candidate for the same awards as Carey is nominated for, also has been recognized for her work in the classroom. A Big 12 Commissioner Honor Roll student, Schreiber also received 2003-04 Big 12 academic honors by being named to the Big 12 All-Academic Second Team.
Schrieber was pleased upon hearing the news that she and her fellow seniors were honored as co-recipients for the Longhorn PRIDE Student-Athlete of the Month award.
"It's important to all of us to be recognized, because we're supposed to be student-athletes and role models," Schreiber said. "It's important to us to take on the student part of our UT life just as much as we focus on our athletics."
Schreiber is majoring in kinesiology and plans to get certified to become a teacher after she graduates. In order for her to fulfill that goal, Schrieber has had to stay on top of her academics by sometimes studying weeks ahead of time for scheduled tests.
"I try not to get too far behind on anything," Schreiber said. "I know that if I have a test in a couple weeks, I need to start studying in advance and not wait until the night before. We've all learned the importance of time management here at UT."
Williams, another recipient of Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll honors, also works hard on the court where she was named UT's "Most Improved Longhorn" in 2002-03. She hopes that the seniors' leadership rubs off on the underclassmen.
"It's great to be able to be a leader, and show the underclassmen what being a student-athlete is supposed to be like at Texas, because being a leader applies to working hard both on and off the court," Williams said.
A kinesiology major, Mercedes has dreamed of being a nurse for a long time, and she plans to go to nursing school after graduation. "After I graduate, I'll be going into nursing school," Williams said. "Nursing is what I really want to do, especially working with infants and children. Right now, I'm getting some help from the kinesiology field first because it also involves studying the body."
The seniors all concurred that their path to academic excellence began immediately when stepping on the Forty Acres under Conradt.
"Since the first day you get here, Coach Conradt stresses academics first, and athletics second," Bell said. "If your academics aren't on track, you don't get on the court, period."
Schreiber said that the team's academic success is due to Conradt's interest in their progress in the classroom.
"Coach always knows how we do on tests, if we go to class, and she keeps in close contact with our academic advisors to make sure we're on track," Schreiber said. "She starts to monitor us when we are freshmen, and she visits study hall often to make sure everyone is staying up on their studies. If we need extra time to study, she'll let us out of practice early. She really proves that she thinks our academics is most important."
And Conradt herself is hopeful that the seniors' athletic and academic success will carry over to the younger Longhorns on the roster.
"Our seniors have been great role models for the players who they will leave behind at the end of this season; hopefully those players will feel a responsibility to keep their spirit of hard work alive," Conradt concluded.