Sunday, September 6, 2009

Eustace players not just good, but also smart

Midfielder Heather Hotz recalls the end of Bishop Eustace's 2008 field hockey season with mixed emotions.

The Crusaders lost to West Essex, 3-0, in the Group 2 state final, but won the school's Team GPA award for having the best grade-point average of 16 fall sports teams, including boys and girls.

Now a senior captain with Elise DiDonato and Rachel Duffy, Hotz and company shared the spotlight last season at an assembly in the school's gym with the rest of their teammates, who recorded a combined GPA of 3.49.

"Because of the school we go to, the academic award was more important," Hotz said. "But as an athlete, winning states is definitely it."

Duffy, a defender, said that as a student athlete at Eustace she wants both awards. And the Crusaders appear to be capable of collecting twin trophies this season.

Coach Krissy Holach said academics come first at the college preparatory school, where the award is presented at the end of each season. In fact, athletes can arrive late for practice if their tardiness is related to schoolwork.

"I have stayed after school for help," DiDonato said. "If you need to make up a test or need help, you can stay behind with a teacher."

Athletic director Tori Wishnick liked the idea of a team GPA award the instant she heard about it at a Sportsmanship Summit sponsored by the NJSIAA in Edison a few years ago.

"The [GPA] award could help to pull a team together if someone is struggling academically," said Wishnick, citing the competitive nature of athletes.

Another reason she liked the idea was that it meshed with Eustace's academic standards, which are higher than those mandated by the state for student-athletes.

The athletic director projects that 99.5 percent of the Class of 2009 will advance to higher education. Graduates from last year's field hockey team have gone on to Boston College, Fairleigh Dickinson, Haverford College, New York University, Rutgers, St. Joseph's University, and Villanova.

The first Team GPA award went to the boys' cross-country team in 2007. The field hockey team hopes to be the first to repeat.