by Maddie Johnson & Jon Deutsch, Web Editor & Staff Writer
When the spring semester abruptly ended back in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, it meant that a lot of exciting events at Manhattan College could not come to a final close. Potential championships, performances, and victories for students enjoying their last ride as a college athlete, unfortunately, could not take place.
Even though sports in spring 2020 couldn’t end on a high note, many Jasper athletes still finished off this semester victorious by earning spots on the MAAC All-Academic Team. To be eligible for the honorary team, student-athletes must finish the academic year with a cumulative G.P.A. of at least 3.2. Collectively, Manhattan had 215 student-athletes reach that feat for the 2019-2020 academic year.
Junior Jessie Rising plays softball for Manhattan College and was selected on the MAAC’s 2020 Softball All-Academic Team. A biology major, Rising currently has a 4.0 G.P.A, which she attributes to time management skills.
“I’ve always been nerdy and never settled for less than a 4.0,” Rising said. “So really the biggest adjustment for me was time management because there’s a lot of distractions in college.”
The difficulties behind managing sports and school are nothing new to Rising. In high school, Rising was a triple threat — a multi-sport athlete who played sports year round. And even now that a college student typically focuses on one sport and one career path, Rising admits it’s still a tough challenge to handle.
“I played volleyball in the fall, basketball in the winter and then spring I played softball and travel softball in the summer, so I was always doing something but there is definitely a difference,” Rising said when reflecting on her athletic experiences in both high school and college. “Honestly, switching to just one sport was easier for me because like there’s not much demand on your body, but the course load and all of that was a lot harder.”
Rising believes that one of the reasons for her success as a college athlete is because of the support she receives from the Jasper community. She can attest to the amazing job the softball team does at supporting one another and making sure no one is struggling in the classroom.
“They’re [Manhattan College Athletics] incredible and I really feel like I’m genuinely a student before I’m an athlete and even in high school I really felt like I was more of an athlete than a student,” Rising said.
Senior exercise science major Meagan Miller, who was named to the MAAC All-Academic Team in 2019, plays volleyball for the college and has plans of going to school for physical therapy after graduating from Manhattan. Her future academic goals have played a significant role in why she’s so driven to keep up athletics and grades.
“It was always something I had in the back of my mind, I always wanted to have a great G.P.A. and keep my options open,” Miller said.
Miller became extremely focused on school thanks to the positive influence of her professors in the Kinesiology Department. Upon realizing what kind of student she aspired to be, Miller gained a greater sense of confidence.
“The professors just care so much about you that I found myself getting good grades because I wanted to do well for them,” Miller said.
Miller feels that the Jasper community has given her a great support system and incentivizes student-athletes to stay on top of their studies. She idolizes Manhattan alum Alyssa Rehrer 18’, with whom she sees as a like-minded person. Rehrer, who played volleyball for Manhattan and made it to the All-MAAC Academic team three years in a row, now attends physician school and has advised Miller of the importance of being actively involved at Manhattan College. Even to this day, Miller still consults with Rehrer for guidance.
“The very first day I got to campus, she was the first one to say hi to me,” Miller said of Rehrer. “She was the hardest working one on the court, like the strongest in the weight room and ever since she’s been on my team, and now she’s my friend, I kind have tried to look up to her as a leader for me and try to get involved because I know she got involved. I ask her for help whenever I need help with my future and my future career.”
Senior Nyala Pendergrass is a women’s basketball player at Manhattan and earned MAAC All-Academic Team honors for the 2019-2020 academic year. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career as a play-by-play commentator in either college or professional basketball. A superstar athlete for St. Rose High School in Belmar, New Jersey — where she won a pair of state championships — Pendergrass has always been tasked with making enough time for both basketball and academics.
“In my house growing up, not being studious really wasn’t an option,” Pendergrass said. “From elementary, middle school, high school and pretty much every level, you know I made an effort to study for tests, do extra things, just anything I could to obtain the best grade.”
A big believer in the importance of getting good grades, Pendergrass developed great time management skills in high school which she credits towards her “rigorous” basketball program at St. Rose. Her team would coordinate routine check-ins with academic advisors and coaches to make sure every player was progressing with their academic course load.
At Manhattan, she has benefitted from the quality academic resources at her disposal.
“Classes are so small here which is great so if something did happen in class, your professor would reach out to you,” Pendergrass said. “So the Jasper community and the standard set at the school, within that community, has definitely set a precedent for us to not fail.”
For student-athletes who struggle academically, Pendergrass has valuable advice on how to keep working.
“If you don’t find enough time to do everything you need to do, set a routine, set a schedule that you would do every day, and make sure you can handle everything that’s on your plate because you can,” she said. “Thousands of others have done it and you are capable. Don’t be lazy and don’t ignore any weaknesses you might have because if you do, you’ll just get the same result.”
For the 2020 spring semester, all 19 varsity teams at the school registered at least a 3.1 GPA, with the men’s basketball team pacing all men’s teams with a 3.51 GPA and the softball team leading all women’s teams with a 3.76 GPA. The softball team was the top finisher for the semester.