Flexibility key to volleyball’s academic achievements


Freshman Claire Tulisiak races to bump the ball against Central Michigan University on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at the M.A.C. Center. Kent State won, 3-0.

Nick Buzzelli

Don Gromala knows the importance of balancing athletics and academics.

Since taking over the Kent State volleyball program in 2012, the Flashes have won the American Volleyball Coaches Association Team Academic Award four times and the team’s overall grade point average has risen to a 3.5.

He’s coached four players who were selected as Mid-American Conference Distinguished Scholar-Athletes, and 11 players who have been named to the Academic All-MAC team.

Four times, his program achieved a perfect Academic Progress Report score of 1,000 — the NCAA’s method of measuring retention and graduation rates for student-athletes — according to its online database.

“We don’t only celebrate the success on the court, we celebrate the success in the classroom as well … We’re always constantly in touch with them on how their classes are going,” Gromala said.

But the success ­— both in the classroom and on the court — that Kent State has had under Gromala can be attributed to the type of individuals he actively recruits; those who want to play volleyball for a competitive program while also challenging themselves academically at a university with a proven track record.

Angie Hull has seen it firsthand.

Hull, who serves as the volleyball academic athletic counselor, said the players begin completing coursework as soon as they depart campus for road trips and study whenever they have breaks in between matches.

“You’re coming into Kent State, which has an academic bar here anyway. (Gromala) gets students who are above that bar,” Hull said. “One thing to remember with them, too, is you’re getting a student who has been in a lot of athletics at their high school. But they’ve also been a really good student, so they can transition to college a little easier.”

However, the success is also a direct result of the flexibility the athletic department has with the rest of Kent State, regarding the demanding workload and time commitment that comes with being a Division I athlete.

“If they miss class for competition or for travel to a competition … they have the opportunity to complete any work that they’ve missed in their class and they can’t be penalized for attendance and things like that. That’s not the same from campus-to-campus. Some campuses say you can miss x-number of classes. Some say, ‘Our professors are asked to work with you,’” Hull said. “Ours are required.”

Gromala said the university, athletes and professors have a “great relationship” and professors try to help students submit assignments, even if they’re on the road.

“They’re not just using volleyball as an excuse to get an exam changed,” Gromala said.

Nick Buzzelli is a sports reporter, contact him at [email protected]