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Swim team awarded highest academic honor


The Mills College swim team has been awarded the first place Academic All-American honor from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) for spring 2008. The requirement for the Academic All-American honor is a team grade point average of 3.0 or higher. The Mills swim team had a team grade point average of 3.31, including two women with GPAs above 3.85.

Senior Jenny Safreno, a Mills swimmer for four years now, said, “It is great to be recognized as a team, and I’m especially proud of the team for being awarded the Academic All-American honor! Not many people realize how much time is devoted to athletics, and academic success combined with athletic performance is a major balancing act.”

Senior Kelly Stewart said, “I’m just happy that all our collective hard work was recognized.” According to their coach, Neil Virtue, the Mills swim team has been awarded the Academic All-American honor every semester since he has been here, also earning first place in the NAIA for the past two semesters and have been in the top 30 among all college women’s swim teams.

Virtue said, “I support their accomplishments. I am pretty flexible if someone tells me they have to study for a test. I put a value on academics, acknowledging that they are here to receive an education, and I follow up with them. If they told me they were studying for a test, I ask them how they did on the test.” He continued, “I want them to be able to swim and not stress over it.”

“Neil is such a major source of support in every aspect of life. He knows what we all are going through and checks in with every single one of us concerning our academic and athletic balance. Neil has made the Mills academic-athletic world more manageable through his constant support,” Safreno said.

According to Virtue, he checks in with everyone at the beginning of the season, and will even help the swimmers plan their schedules if they want more structure and help with time management and planning skills.

According to Kelly Stewart, being an athlete actually helps her be a better student. She said, “Spending two hours in the pool every day forces me to take a mental break from my studies. Usually after practice, I walk away feeling refreshed (and exhausted) and ready to study again. And knowing that I have practice every day forces me to be a better time manager and not procrastinate.” Stewart balances her academics with being an athlete by scheduling out days in her planner and blocking out class time, team time, and study time.

“The team helps so much in terms of support and my ability to balance everything. My teammates are always here to help in any way they can and they know that I am always here to support them as well,” Safreno said. According to Virtue, their success as a team is also largely dependent on each individual. He said, “Swimming is not a sport that is particularly fun; it is not a game. So, it attracts people that are kind of overly driven, whose level of self-motivation is great. Although it is a group effort, swimming is an individual sport and the swimmers tend to be really driven on their own.”

The swim season began on Sept. 8. The first meet of the season was at CSU East Bay, on Oct. 25. Virtue said, “It was a great place to start the season. There was just great support and energy during the meet. It also showed us what we can do.”

Safreno said, “We actually just returned from Oregon where we swam in two meets. Our first meet against CSU East Bay went really well as well. Some of the team members have already qualified for Nationals with their relay and individual events, which is amazing for the first three meets.” The Mills swim team has qualified for Nationals the past four years.

This season, about half of the swim team is new. Virtue said that this “brings different dynamics to the team.” He said, “I like the quote, ‘every year is exactly the same but different.’ It is the same in that we are always swimming, but it is different with each group. This season the team is a mostly experienced group. They are bonding, supporting, and pushing each other.”

He went on to say, “My goals for this season is for everyone to be healthy, happy, and able to look back when the season is over and be proud and happy about their experience; it is to help people see, push, and realize their potential.”

Safreno said, “I hope to break some personal best times, which is the goal of any swimmer, but I hope that the entire team enjoys their experience and realizes the bonds that are created through Mills Athletics.”