With a 3.548 average, the team topped the list compiled by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), which included 88 teams in the division.,In addition to winning the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) championship last spring, Emerson's softball team was also named the top academic squad for Division III based on aggregate grade point average.
With a 3.548 average, the team topped the list compiled by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), which included 88 teams in the division.
"We congradulate the women on the team for their hard work and dedication to their studies," said Emerson Athletic Director Kristin Parnell.
The team finished 24-18 overall with a 16-6 record in the GNAC, winning the conference championship and securing a bid for the NCAA national tournament.
Head Coach Phil McElroy said he enjoys seeing such an accomplishment at a school known for its strong academics rather than its athletic program.
"Our school is absolutely academic," McElroy said. "The fact that we can perform on both the field and in the classroom makes us very proud. It really justifies what we do."
The team has placed in the top 25 squads academically before, but McElroy said he never expected to come in first.
"We were listed at around twelfth last year, and we were hoping the crack the top 10," McElroy said. "This is surprising."
Junior catcher/oufieler Bri Papa said being listed first was a huge accomplishment.
"It shows that we are able to balance all the demands that come with playing a college sport," the broadcast journalism major said.
Sophomore outfielder Kelly Mullen viewed the honor as a reward for all the hard work the team has put in.
"Balancing school and sports isn't the easiest thing in the world," Mullen said. "Knowing that we as a team were able to do it shows a lot of effort and dedication."
McElroy sees the upcoming season as having the potential for repeat success both academically and athletically, but said it will be tough to fill empty spots left by graduating seniors.
"We are trying to figure it out and find replacements for those players that we lost," McElroy said. "We lost one of our pitchers and our starting catchers."
That starting catcher was writing, literature and publishing major Jennifer Boyden, the valedictorian of the 2007 class and the GNAC Woman of the Year.
Boyden held a .340 batting average and .979 fielding percentage during her career at Emerson, and was named to the All-Tournament Team in the Division III Providence Regional.
"We definitely lost some very important people," McElroy said. "There's been some good competition to fill those spots, as well as in other positions, by the eight new players."
McElroy said he recognizes the challenges student athletes face and the team understands the importance of academics.
"School is our first and foremost priority here," McElroy said. "The coaching staff has told the team how important classes are."
The adjustment can be especially difficult for freshmen, but McElroy said the team lends a hand to the younger players and makes sure they are balancing their schedule properly. If someone starts to fall behind, they can find support within the team.
"Classes can be overwhelming as a student athlete," McElroy said. "There is so much reading and writing that the professors expect here, and the girls can lean on each other and give each other support."
For freshmen, the student athlete guidelines are less stringent to allow for adjustment to college life.
"We ask freshmen to maintain a 1.7 GPA," said Coordinator of Athletic Operations Roger Crosley. "For sophomores and up, we require a 2.0 GPA."
Parnell commended McElroy for recruiting athletes who have no problem meeting such requirements.
"[Phil] recruited all these young women and they are obviously are the type of student athletes we want at Emerson," Parnell said.
Mullen, a marketing communication major, said she is glad to be a part of a well-rounded program that focuses on a balance in college.
"We came to college to get an education, not just to play softball," Mullen said. "Seeing that we can succeed at both is outstanding."