By Lee Noles
WINGATE – Players in the Wingate University volleyball program take pride in what they have accomplished on the court. And rightfully so, as the Bulldogs’ .920 winning percentage since 2007 and 11 South Atlantic Conference championships in the past 13 seasons exemplifies their dominance.
This year is no different. Wingate once again sits atop the league standings by riding the top defense in the nation to a 16-0 overall record.
The Bulldogs’ academics? Well, that isn’t bad either.
Wingate can lay claim to six academic all-Americans since 2006, and last year the American Volleyball Coaches Association recognized the program for the fifth straight year for the team’s 3.6 grade-point average.
The performance in the classroom is such a priority to the program’s veterans, like senior Anna Holmquist, they make a point to discuss academic expectations at the start of each season.
“We certainly address the importance of school,” Holmquist said. “We talk about being a good student, about being in class and doing the work.”
Holmquist practices what she preaches. Not only was she all-conference last year as a middle blocker, but the academic all-American is filling out applications for the Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships.
“School has always been important to me,” said Holmquist, a political science major with a double minor in international studies and Spanish. “My main focus when I came to college was to get a degree. I am glad to play at a successful program, but school is very important.”
Holmquist said the Bulldogs’ success in school stems from the importance Wingate coach Shelton Collier puts on academics. Collier, who’s been at Wingate for 17 years, said several players take classes in the science and medical fields. The majors require a lot of lab time, which sometimes can cut into practice.
“We have players coming in the middle of practice, which is fine,” Collier said.
The flexibility from Collier is shared by the professors at Wingate. According to Collier, the school works with players to turn in assignments early or make labs up when the Bulldogs have road matches.
The balancing act takes some effort. Holmquist peer tutors and works as a research assistant in her major in addition to being a scholar athlete. She said time management is essential in making sure things get done.
“It can be a bit stressful, but you just find the time,” Holmquist said.
The Bulldogs (9-0 in the league) are making it work once again as they took over sole possession of first place in the SAC with a 3-1 win over second place Anderson on Sept. 28. The two programs face off again at Anderson on Oct. 26, and may have a third meeting at the SAC tournament. The Trojans ended Wingate’s 11-year reign at last year’s conference championship.
This season, Phoebe Havenaar leads the Bulldogs with 133 kills. Senior outside hitters Hannah Givens (103 kills) and Taylor Williams (79 kills) have supplied needed offense after Holmquist went down with an ankle injury that knocked her out for several weeks. During that time, the trio have benefited from the passing of junior setter Rachel Alles, who ranks second in the conference at more than 10 assists per game.
“She’s is really good at spreading it around,” Havenaar said of Alles. “She keeps us from becoming too predictable for other teams.”
The motivation the Bulldogs show on the court rolls over into the classroom where Collier said he doesn’t use tactics like study hall or assistant coaches checking classes to keep his team focused.
“They always seem to find the time themselves to study,” Collier said. “They are motivated to get 4.0 (GPA). All of them. I really don’t have to be a motivator.”
Collier even uses the classroom success the Bulldogs have maintained over the years as part of his recruiting.
“It’s good to look back to players who played eight to 10 years ago who are now doctors and lawyers,” Collier said. “So it helps us out a lot.”