Siobhan Toal belongs to the Brainiac WolfPack, the Thompson Rivers University women’s volleyball team that features a program-record 10 Academic All-Canadians.
“I would say that I am the smartest and I’m not even joking about that,” said Toal, a 5-foot-10 outside hitter from Edmonton whose mammoth personality either dwarfed her modesty or mirrored her sarcasm during an interview with KTW.
“Look around and then look at me. What do you think?”
It looks like she has competition.
U Sports athletes must earn a minimum of 18 credits per school year — the equivalent of completing three courses per semester — and maintain at least an 80 per cent average (3.5 GPA) to be named an Academic All-Canadian.
The WolfPack, who joined the U Sports ranks in time for the 2005-2006 Canada West campaign, have traditionally been led academically by the women’s basketball squad, which often produces between four and six of the nationally recognized student-athletes.
Ten of the 14 players who toiled for the women’s volleyball team in 2018-2019 accomplished the feat.
“No one has come even close,” said TRU athletics co-ordinator Jon Shepard, an important cog on the WolfPack scholastic front.
All 10 record-setters are back for another season.
Shepard qualified his statement by mentioning the 2015-2016 WolfPack cross-country running squad, which also boasted 10 Academic All-Canadians, but that team was a mixed men’s and women’s group that featured a number of red-shirting athletes who weren’t actually competing.
The 2018-2019 women’s volleyball outfit posted a combined GPA of 3.41, that number buoyed by the 10 who made the list: Toal, Avery Pottle, Erin Mutch, Olga Savenchuk, Katie Ludvig, Kendra Finch, Gabriela Podolski, Elizabeth Reimer, Nicole Reid and Hayley McNaught.
“It’s like we wake up, we study, we eat, we sleep and we play,” said Ludvig, Kamloops’ lone representative among the team’s intelligentsia.
That is not entirely true. WolfPack athletes are university students who like to have a bit of fun when time permits.
But Ludvig’s point is time usually doesn’t permit for high-achieving student-athletes.
Savenchuk, the 6-foot-3 volleyball punisher from Donetsk, Ukraine, studies in English, her second language, and posted a plus-4.0 GPA last school year, a mark that solidified her place in the Master of Business Administration program.
“That is not just smarts,” WolfPack bench boss Chad Grimm said. “That is work. Olga spends an incredible amount of time working.”
Pottle, named the smartest of the bunch by several teammates (none of them named Toal), spends her Monday evenings tutoring in the PACE Program, a study group for WolfPack athletes.
“Being naturally intelligent would help,” Ludvig said with a laugh, “but it definitely comes down to time-management skills and sacrificing a lot of things you might want to do, especially when we’re on the road.”
Grimm was displeased with academic output a few years ago and implemented changes in time for 2018-2019.
The PACE Program, which is mandatory for all WolfPack first-year players, is also a requirement for anyone on the women’s volleyball team with a sub-3.0 GPA.
“We can put some things in place, but this group has both bought in and has the capabilities to take care of stuff off the court, in the classroom and in the community,” Grimm said.
“That culture is being built. You’re missing lots of school. Your time management has to be there.”
Now, come on, Siobhan, tell us the truth. Some of these so-called brilliant teammates of yours must be padding their stats by taking a few guaranteed-A courses, right?
“No,” Toal said. “I see a lot of honest faces and really smart young women who know what they want in life and that’s both to succeed on the court and off.”
Grimm chuckled when he heard Toal gave herself the nod for scholastic supremacy, but noted she may just have a case.
“She was over 4.0 as a first-year and also, because she’s a character, she can put up an argument,” Grimm said. “The self-vote I appreciate. She’ll have some good sound bites for you. That’s for sure.”
He was right.
“I think it’s a genetic freak of nature,” said Toal, an English major and political-science minor. “I think when Chad was recruiting, he thought, ‘How can I find the most intelligent species around Canada,’ and he brought us together — not for skill, but for intelligence.”
If Toal is right, Grimm got lucky in the volleyball comprehension department.
The 2019-2020 WolfPack are 4-0, a record never achieved in program history, and whispers of Canada West title contention could spike to full-fledged fodder with a pair of victories over the Alberta Pandas (1-3) of Edmonton this weekend at the TCC.
Game time is 6:45 p.m. on Friday, following the men’s tilt between the two clubs, and
5 p.m. on Saturday, the curtain-raiser of the two rematches.
The smart money might just be on TRU.
“It’s all about the brains and maybe that transfers over to volleyball,” Toal said. “Maybe we’re going to come out and win it all this year.”