The NCAA and its member institutions often refer to "student-athletes," but the front side of the term isn't often highlighted in a sports section. We asked officials from the Southland's Division I universities to point us toward their best and brightest — the teams that made classroom performance a priority.
Here is what we found at USC:
USC's top-ranked women's golf team is trying for a repeat of last year, which in this case means more than defending its national championship.
The Trojans not only won the 2013 NCAA title with a record-setting score of 19 under par, 21 strokes ahead of second-place Duke, they also posted a 3.61 cumulative grade-point average — the highest of any team in Andrea Gaston's 18 years as coach.
FOR THE RECORD:
USC academics: In an article in the April 27 Sports section about the academic success of USC's women's golf team, Rachel Morris' grade-point average was reported to be 3.34. Her GPA is 3.84, according to USC. —
Four of the team's 10 players were Academic All-Americans.
Annie Park, the Trojans' top player, has a relatively modest 2.9 GPA — which becomes more impressive when it's noted that she graduated a semester early from her Levittown, N.Y., high school in order to enroll at, and immediately compete for, USC.
"She came in as a 17-year-old," Gaston said. "For her to jump in academically said a lot about her."
Park took a big leap on the course, as well, winning the NCAA individual championship along with leading USC to the team title.
Gaston acknowledges that nearly all of the college game's top players have the same goal: landing a place on the LPGA tour. She has coached a slew of Trojans who advanced to the professional ranks, but she still demands that her players perform well in the classroom.
"I know that our first-stringers' goal is to be on the LPGA tour in a few years, but sometimes plans don't always turn out the way you first think," said Gaston, who has led the Trojans to three national championships and narrowly missed out two other times. "What you do here at school is really important."
Senior Rachel Morris, who was part of the 2013 national championship team and placed 17th individually at the NCAA tournament, enrolled at USC with the goal of playing professionally after graduation. But her plans changed during her college career, even as she excelled on the golf course.
"For me it was always 'School came first,'" Morris said. "That's how I was raised, and getting that degree was most important."
After she graduates this spring, the business student with a 3.34 GPA already has a job waiting for her. She will be an analyst for Goldman Sachs.
That's par for the course, Gaston said. "It's great to have girls that care about what they're doing in and out of the classroom."