March 18, 2013
TEMPE - As the Arizona State University wrestling team prepares for the NCAA Championships next weekend in Des Moines, Iowa, the squad has seen a remarkable turnaround in just the course of the past season.
Whether it be the fact that ASU had three student-athletes in finals at the Pac-12 Championships this year compared to one last year or that four Sun Devils were consistently ranked in the top-20 in all ranking services this season as opposed to just one last year, there's no denying the program is taking the strides to return to prominence as a top tier program.
But perhaps the biggest and most important change in the culture of the wrestling squad this past season has come off the mat, where academics has reigned supreme for the team and the result is impressive.
Under the guidance of academic advisor Shelby Crabtree, the Sun Devil wrestling team has shown a marked improvement this year with a cumulative GPA of 3.05 thus far this year - breaking the 3.00 barrier for the first time in the last seven years.
"There's a lot of contributing factors to the increase, "Crabtree said. "But I think it's the fact that they have the right support and structure and (new assistant coach) Lee (Pritts) has been a really strong reinforcement for the guys on the team and their academics."
Even so, it's hard not to note that this change has come during Crabtree's first year at the helm of the academic side of things for the wrestling program.
A student-athlete herself before moving into collegiate athletics, Crabtree played soccer for Oregon State and Portland State while working on her undergraduate degree in Philosophy. She would go on to earn her Master's in intercollegiate athletic leadership at Washington.
"My career aspiration was to be in higher education because I highly valued education," Crabtree said. "I didn't want to coach at this level, but wanted to do something where I could make an impact."
And what an impact she has made as the team has seen its cumulative GPA skyrocket this year from a 2.67 to a 3.05 while the squad's Fall semester GPA was an impressive 3.11, by and large the highest in recent memory.
Crabtree credits a strong influx of bright freshman and recognizes the two seniors, Jake Meredith and Levi Cooper, for helping to provide the guidance necessary to keep the younger guys going.
Meredith, a redshirt senior, was named the Pac-12 Student-Athlete of the Year for wrestling at the Pac-12 Championships a couple weeks ago. Meredith graduated with a bachelor's degree last spring while redshirting what would have been his senior season with a knee injury. He is currently working towards a master's degree in global technology and development and has a GPA of 3.42. He has twice been named the ASU Student-Athlete of the Month in both October 2010 and November 2012.
Crabtree says the key to the team's success has been the ability to find a good balance with their time while she has worked to bring structure and expectations to the team while still allowing for their independence.
"If they take care of what they need to do, they won't have a ton of oversight," Crabtree said. "It helps the guys to establish plans for what they are going to do with their time and how to prioritize the academics."
Overall, Crabtree and the coaching staff's goal for the team is for them to maintain a GPA over 3.25 and have every member of the team accomplish the mark while also becoming one of the top wrestling schools, academically, in the nation.