Purpose, Service, Leadership: Part 1

July 11, 2017

This summer, PepperdineWaves.com will look at how the Pepperdine Athletics Department has worked to fulfill the motto of Pepperdine University through a three-part "Purpose, Service, Leadership" series. The series will highlight initiatives and accomplishments from the past year that fulfill each of the three core tenets of the university's motto. The first installment of this series looks at the purpose portion of the motto and how the Pepperdine Athletics Department continues to "Compete with Purpose" both on and off the field of play.

MALIBU, Calif. -- Of the core tenets of the Pepperdine University motto, purpose is arguably the broadest category of the three and most central to the heart of the school's mission.

Much of what will be highlighted throughout this entire three-part series could fall under the category of purpose, but for this opening post we will focus more specifically on three key aspects that have guided the Pepperdine Athletic Department's commitment to helping its student-athletes live lives of purpose.

The department made its dedication to this first tenet of the Pepperdine motto overtly clear when it launched its "Competing with Purpose" campaign in 2013 and this year saw that commitment not only continue, but expand and reach new heights.

"At Pepperdine, we strive to Compete with Purpose," said Director of Athletics Dr. Steve Potts. "The commitment to our Christian mission, the commitment to the academic well-being of our student-athletes and the commitment to competing for championships are integrated into our purpose."

Those three things that Potts mentioned are at the heart of what drives the Pepperdine Athletics Department and can be seen throughout the efforts of its staff and student-athletes this year.

Christian Mission

Two initiatives that have been especially important to advancing the Christian mission of the Pepperdine Athletics Department have been the Wednesday Student-Athlete Convocation and the Sideline group that meets afterward. Typically led by Athletics Chaplain Krista Lopata, the Student-Athlete Convocation is an alternative way for Pepperdine athletes to fulfill their university convocation credits within an environment uniquely focused on their challenges and experiences as collegiate student-athletes. It is a time of community building and an opportunity for student-athletes from other teams to worship together.

In addition to the Student-Athlete Convocation, the student-led small group called Sideline gathered weekly to encourage and support each other in their Christian faith. Open to anyone who wished to attend, the group provided an opportunity for athletes to participate in a Christ-centered community and spend time in fellowship.

On an individual level, Lopata has also made a concerted effort this year to build meaningful relationships with the Pepperdine student-athletes and to be available for counseling and/or mentoring to any individual in need.

"Student-athletes are experiencing a lot of pressure with a lot of different voices speaking into their lives," said Lopata. "It is my hope to come alongside them, to encourage them and to provide a space where they can share their true experiences and be supported. I believe that people grow and learn best through relationships where they feel fully accepted and known. I try to build relationships with the student-athletes where their identity is not in how they perform, but rather in their purpose, which allows them to perform more freely. It is also my hope to create a Christian culture in which athletes, no matter their faith background, know they are fully loved and fully known. This is often experienced in the everyday relationships built within the department."

Academic Success

On the academics front it was a banner year, with Pepperdine student-athletes posting a department-wide 3.175 GPA. Of Pepperdine's 17 teams, 14 programs posted better than a 3.00 GPA and six teams posted better than a 3.30 GPA (the minimum standard for individual student-athletes to be considered for Academic All-American status). The men's and women's runners stole the show in the team GPA department, with women's track posting a department-best GPA of 3.51 and men's cross country leading all male teams with a 3.48 GPA.

Seven Pepperdine teams were recognized by the NCAA as being in the top 10 percent for their Academic Progress Rate (APR) with men's and women's cross country, men's and women's golf, women's swimming and diving, women's tennis and men's volleyball all being honored for their success.

The academic excellence of Pepperdine student-athletes earned the Waves numerous individual awards on a number of different levels. Representing the highest level of academic achievement in collegiate athletics, two Waves earned recognition as CoSIDA Academic All-Americans this year with Aaron Barnett of baseball and Izzy Connell of track garnering the prestigious recognition. It was the first time since 1989 and the second time in school history that two Waves earned Academic All-American status in the same year.

Four Pepperdine Waves earned Academic All-District VIII honors (Barnett, Connell, Matt Crowder and Nick Heath), 13 were named Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholars and 17 were named to the Seaver College Dean's List for the spring of 2017.

On the conference level the Waves set a new high-water mark in recorded school history, with 66 student-athletes garnering recognition as All-Academic Team honorees. Of the 66, 33 Waves were named to their conference's All-Academic first team. Also garnering recognition from the West Coast Conference were 109 Pepperdine student-athletes named to the WCC Commissioner's Honor Roll. On the Commissioner's Honor Roll, 24 student-athletes earned Gold Honors (3.75-4.00 GPA), 27 earned Silver Honors (3.50-3.74 GPA) and 58 earned Bronze Honors (3.00-3.49 GPA).

Another 168 student-athletes earned Pepperdine Scholar-Athlete status for maintaining at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA through the fall 2016 semester, a number that constitutes nearly half of all Pepperdine athletes.

At the end of the school year the Pepperdine Athletics Department also took the time to honor a pair of individuals for their work in the classroom at the annual student-athlete awards ceremony. Barnett, a senior catcher/designated hitter on the baseball team, and Connell, a senior sprinter on the women's track team, were named the school's Male and Female Scholar-Athletes of the Year.

Competing for Championships

Of the 14 teams to earn better than a 3.00 GPA, the success was not just limited to the classroom, with four of them also winning conference championships this year (women's soccer, men's water polo, women's tennis and beach volleyball). Of the four, beach volleyball played for a national championship as one of the last two teams standing this season, women's tennis made a run into the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament and women's soccer made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament's second round.

The numbers on the field were just as impressive as those attained in the classroom for the Waves. Seven Pepperdine teams ended the season within the Top 25 national rankings or final finish, four teams won a total of five conference championships and five made their respective NCAA postseason tournaments.

Along with beach volleyball, women's tennis and women's soccer, both the men's and women's golf teams played their way into the NCAA Championships, with each squad finishing third at their respective regionals to make the final competition. Men's golf would finish 13th at the national tournament and the women finished 23rd.

On the individual side, 13 student-athletes earned All-American status, 63 garnered all-conference recognition and 33 were named to their conference's first team.

In the final standings of the NACDA/Learfield Sports Director's Cup, Pepperdine posted its best finish since 2012, ending the year in 70th place overall and second among WCC schools. Pepperdine also finished second among Division I-AAA (non-football) schools in the Director's Cup standings.

2016-17 was one of tremendous success both on and off the field for the Waves, and was a year full of Pepperdine student-athletes living extraordinary lives of purpose.

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