Smither and Combs net academic honors
Published 5:55 pm Saturday, July 11, 2015
Being a student-athlete at the college level means leading a challenging life but also a special one full of rich opportunity.
Making the most of it requires effectively balancing academics and athletics, and former Lakeland High School field hockey stars Kendell Combs and Kelsey Smither were recently honored for mastering that equilibrium.
Combs, a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, and Smither, a graduate student at Old Dominion University, were named to the 2014-15 Virginia Sports Information Directors Academic All-State team.
Email newsletter signup
To be eligible for the team, a student-athlete had to be a sophomore or higher and possess a grade point average of at least 3.25.
Amidst her time on the field, Smither earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management with a minor in exercise science, maintaining a 3.64 GPA. She said it was an honor to have her efforts recognized.
“All growing up, both academics and athletics were stressed in my household, because if I were to play athletics, then my grades had to be up, obviously,” Smither said. “And that same kind of idea was stressed in college, and it’s really a balance, and so I work hard on the field and I work sometimes even harder in the classroom. And so it’s definitely an honor for it to pay off.”
Combs never expected to make any sort of academic team because she said her success was usually focused on the field.
“My first few years at VCU, I really struggled in the classroom,” she said. “But by my senior year, I just found the stuff that I had passion for.”
For her spring classes during her senior year, Combs earned a 4.0 GPA, helping her graduate with an overall GPA of 3.29.
“My major was psychology, and then I minored in social work and sociology, so being in those classrooms that I enjoyed and having really great teachers I think just kind of inspired me to do even better,” she said.
In the end, Combs met her own expectations for what she could do in the classroom.
Smither ended up earning her bachelor’s degree in three years after she realized that the summer classes she took while training for field hockey had put her on track for early graduation.
“Graduating in three years, I was really proud of myself just for kind of having that drive,” she said, noting her family encouraged her in the endeavor.
She finished all of her undergraduate work in August 2014.
While taking advantage of her last year of eligibility playing college field hockey that fall, she began working on a master’s degree in sport and recreation management, for which she has just completed her first year with a 4.0 GPA.
On the field in 2014, Smither helped the Lady Monarchs go 11-8, advancing as far as the Big East Conference tournament semifinals. As a midfielder/back, she finished the year with six assists and a goal.
Though the Lady Rams struggled with a 5-13 record, Combs, a midfielder, was a bright spot for the team, leading it with 10 goals, including three game-winners, and she had two assists.
In the wake of their standout academic performances, both girls are already applying what they learned in the classroom to real-world situations.
“After I graduated, I got a job at Celebration (Church and) Outreach Ministry, and I oversee a food pantry,” Combs said. In addition to those duties, “I am a volunteer coordinator, and so along with that, I’ll be a volunteer assistant (field hockey) coach at University of Richmond.”
Smither is currently a student supervisor with ODU Athletics in facility and event operations.
“I’ve gotten the opportunity through working part-time with ODU to run a few Conference USA championships as far as event setup, breakdown, running the event, making sure everything goes smoothly, taking care of the players and coaches and officials, that type of stuff,” she said.
She is also working on finding an internship next spring in facility and event management at the college level to complete her master’s degree.