At the Great South Athletic Conference (GSAC) banquet in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the Mills College cross-country, soccer, and volleyball teams were honored for their athletic and academic achievements. A total of 17 students were named to GSAC All-Academic Award winners, which recognizes student athletes for their high academic standings, while several of those students won awards that include the Sportsmanship award, for leadership skills on and off the field.
For the second year in a row, Mills teams competed in the GSAC championships against other Division III sports teams, where they are only west coast team to participate in the east coast conference. Division III is designed so that student athletes can put their studies on an equal level of importance as athletics, if not before athletics. Student athletes are nominated by their coaches in their respective sports and each coach in the conference votes on who should be named for each award and who should be named to a conference team.
Senior soccer captain Jazmine Leonard-Fortes was named to the 2014 GSAC Women’s Soccer All-Conference Team to recognize her for their leadership skills, contributions to her team and individual success during the soccer season.
“I think my coach really recognized my leadership roles that I take on for the team, like me and the other captain,” Leonard-Fortes said. “I’m definitely one of the more vocal players on the team. And because I’ve been on the team for four years and captain for three years, I know a lot of [players], especially the younger players look up to me.”
Not all of the awards are academically focused, however. Sportsmanship Award winner Brittney Docherty, a senior outside on the volleyball team, won her award by keeping things light on the court.
“I make my teammates laugh,” said Docherty, who also won the award in 2013. “I try to tell a lot of jokes.”
For the cross-country team, camaraderie was a large factor in their success, according to their coach, Cindy Olavarri.
“They help each other,” Olavarri said. “Some of the first-years have been going to some of the upperclass women and just getting help from them for their classes. It’s been really nice to see.”
Serena Tsang, a junior front-runner on the cross-country team, said that Mills professors have been understanding of student athletes’ athletic schedule interfering with their academic schedule.
“They are willing for you to make up work,” Tsang said. “And I feel like in general the whole APER department; they want you to see you as an athlete but they also want to see you doing well in school. So they always emphasize being a student first and then an athlete.”
Leadership skills that student athletes are able to develop during their time on the Mills sports teams can easily be transitioned to other aspects of their lives.
“I think that the athletic department has given me [time] to grow into my leadership skills,” Leonard-Fortes said. “I don’t see myself of having the opportunity to be a captain for three years at another institution.”
Volleyball coach Loke Davis said that the student athletes should be proud of themselves for all the work they have put in. Davis emphasized how the volleyball team was reminded of the importance of the commitment taken by each student athlete and learning how to balance every aspect of their athletic and academic lives. She noted this balancing act was something two All-Academic Award winning student athletes on the volleyball team, Emma Baumeister and Julia Harencar, have done throughout their athletic career at Mills.
“I feel like [Baumeister and Harencar’s] story is very similar to other student athletes in the sense that they’re making every effort to meet both commitments,” Davis said. “To make sacrifices in other parts of their lives to meet the requirements of both academics and athletics. I think that’s the story regardless of whether or not you’re recognized for that effort that most, if not all, athletes are making.”