Of the eight MIAC Elite 22 academic awards given to men’s and women’s fall sport athletes, St. Thomas student-athletes earned three of the honors— the most awarded to one school in the conference.
The MIAC Elite 22 award, created in August, recognizes athletes with the highest cumulative GPA in at least their second year of school and second athletic season with the team.
Golfers Erin Dingmann and Alex Kapraun and football offensive lineman Keegan Bragg were the three St. Thomas student-athletes to receive the award this fall.
Modeled after the NCAA Elite 89 Award, athletic director Steve Fritz said this honor stresses the importance of the academic component of Division-III athletics.
“The reality is getting a degree from St. Thomas is really what it’s all about,” Fritz said. “We’re really in the business to enhance that education more than anything.”
Behind St. Thomas, St. Benedict accumulated the second most Elite 22 honors with Blazer volleyball’s Kathryn Gaydos and women’s soccer’s Piper Murray both receiving the award. Carleton, St. Olaf and St. Mary’s each had one Elite 22 award winner.
Competing with other student-athletes not only on the court but also in the classroom, Fritz said St. Thomas is strongly represented on a local and national scale for its academic performance.
“In the conference we’re mid- to upper-half. As you look on a national basis, I think we’re certainly in the upper half of national schools, too,” Fritz said. “We certainly hold our own. A big thing is our student-athletes live up to that reputation, too.”
Kapraun said the three academic conference awards show the strength of the university in all aspects of life.
“It says a lot about our academic programs here, but it says more about the type of kids that we have playing sports— how hardworking and dedicated they are,” Kapraun said.
In the past, St. Thomas athletes have taken home four national Elite 89 awards awarded during NCAA tournaments: volleyball’s Kia Johnson in 2010 and 2012, men’s golfer Mike Mortenson in 2012 and Bragg in 2012. The Elite 89 award was founded during the 2009-2010 academic year.
For football coach Glenn Caruso, academics are vital in the recruiting process for future St. Thomas athletes.
“It’s imperative, and the process has become so accelerated now that actually we’re probably in the middle of the process for next year’s student athletes,” Caruso said. “When you look at what St. Thomas has to offer, I think certainly they’re going to inherently look at how the athletic programs are doing, but it all starts with … what kind of education they can get at the school.”
Bragg said keeping up his 3.98 GPA while juggling academics and football was easier with his coaches’ and teammates’ support.
“They’ve definitely been very understanding … this fall, I’ve had to miss a practice every week just because of my lab schedule and stuff like that, and they were completely understanding of that, knowing that my academics is a top priority.”
Dingmann, who maintains a 4.0 GPA, said St. Thomas provides opportunities for athletes to continue their athletic careers while paving the way for a future simultaneously.
“I came here more for academics, and then golf was just a very cool side point,” Dingmann said. “I get to play the sport that I love as well as get a very high quality education.”
With his 3.95 GPA, Kapraun said the academic support from coaches and teammates fuels his continued success in the classroom.
“My coach always stresses that academics do come first here,” Kapraun said. “(Coach Scott Proshek) stresses that if we do have academic issues, that we get those resolved and take of those first before worrying about practicing.”
For Bragg, Tommie athletes possess similar qualities on the field and in the classroom.
“It really comes down to that work ethic and dedication,” Bragg said. “The Tommie student-athlete is going to be very passionate about their studies and their sports, and that’ll show on the field and in the classroom.”
Sean Crotty can be reached at email@example.com.