Cheney Free Press -

By Paul Delaney
Staff Reporter 

Challenges are varied for Eastern’s student-athletes

Part 2 of a series - Whether it’s on the field, in the classroom or in real-life, these Eagles find their own ways to win


Paul Delaney

Some of Eastern’s top student athletes include: Cora Kellerman (volleyball), Kevin Winford (men’s basketball), Chenise Pakootas (women’s basketball), Kyle Koetje (men’s tennis), Alexis Filliol (women’s tennis), Nathalie Schwery (soccer), Kayla Sutter (soccer), Whitney Leavitt (track), Stephanie Dye (track), Jordan Curnutt (cross country/track), Jordan Arakawa (track) and Jeff Minnerly (football).

Eastern Washington University athletics director Bill Chaves addresses the student-athletes under his watch every September at a special luncheon at Pence Union Building.

Part of his message addresses a formula he sees as part of the pathway to success as a Division 1 college athlete.

By taking their time and dividing it with 40 percent devoted to their athletic endeavors, 40 percent to academics and 20 percent to use as they wish, Chaves – and Eastern athletes – have found this to be more than just numbers.

The success on the field doesn’t lie with a 2010 national championship in football and recent Big Sky regular season titles in basketball and volleyball. Other sports are making progress too.

While it certainly takes talented athletes to compete and hopefully win championships that bring notoriety to the university, the academic piece is a key gear in the machine.

As of spring quarter 2012, the last figures available on the academic scoreboard, there were 305 student-athletes at Eastern. Of that number, 213, nearly 70 percent, have grade-point averages of 3.0 or above. There are nine perfect 4.0s and 115 tout GPAs of 3.5 to 3.99.

There are so many rules in the NCAA that govern academics and athletics, “That if you’re not taking care of business (in the classroom) you’re probably not going to be helpful to us on the court,” Chaves said.

If those who watch Eastern athletes compete at their best in their chosen specialties and think they work up a sweat and go through pain, consider the prescribed 40 percent that is supposed to be dedicated to the academic side.

Chances are if snapshots of a contingent of Eastern’s top performing student-athletes are any indicator, their all-around success certainly seems to carve into that 20 percent of free time.

Looking at different slices of the student-athletes’ lives hopefully also allows one to get to know these young people in a different way than most do from their respective arenas of competition.

Men’s tennis player Kyle Koetje is a senior business major with a 3.21 GPA and also pursuing a statistics minor. The Stanwood, Wash. native will complete his degree in four years and would like to put it to work in the sports business.

“I’d like to work for a pro sports team or something,” Koetje said. “The fallback is just teaching tennis.”

He was fairly new to tennis coming out of high school and not highly recruited so he walked on at Eastern. “I had to come in and earn my spot all four years,” Koetje said, but he finally received a scholarship.

Now that he’s a senior Koetje has more night classes. “Before that it was wake up at 7 a.m., go to class until noon, practice 2-5 p.m., workout from 6-7 and then it’s home to do homework and go to bed.”

Lexi Filliol hails from Yakima and is a junior who is a double-major in marketing and communications with a 3.93 GPA.

She’s not exactly sure what the two degrees will get her in the real world but Filliol, who graduated from high school with a 3.88 GPA plans to stay in school and elevate that to a masters degree in sports marketing, all in just four years.

As a running start student, Fillio came to Eastern with college level classes under her belt that shortened her undergrad time.

Kayla Sutter and Nathalie Schwery are sophomores on EWU’s soccer team and share 3.93 GPAs. Their transitions to life as student-athletes was a different as where they came from.

Schwery, from Lucerne, Switzerland, is a sophomore studying French and education, hopeful of becoming a high school teacher.

The biggest challenge for Schwery was the language. “I got used to it pretty fast,” because she studied both English and French at home where the native language is called Swiss-German.

Sutter said her transition was not that difficult, but admitted she’s not a big fan of change. “I was kind of anxious but being on the team kind of helped because we have a group of people going through the same thing.”

As freshmen both were required to do study table for four hours a week minimum. “It was really helpful, I have this time so I might as well do homework,” Sutter said.

That helped both get into the mindset where evening was for doing homework.

“There’s a ton of possibilities, I’m not sure which direction I (will) go in,” senior volleyball player Cora Kellerman said of her pursuit of a degree in electrical engineering. “I’m hoping to get an internship,” she said when interviewed in September.

Kellerman’s original plan was to graduate in four years but she had a medical redshirt which allowed her another year.

Considering her days can start as early as 6:30 a.m. and end as late as 11:30 p.m. Kellerman seems to have deserved the extra time to complete her degree.

Like many college students, conquering the classwork has required Kellerman to get better at developing solid time management skills while maintaining her 3.79 GPA. That was something she learned at La Conner High School. “And it definitely carried over to college,” Kellerman said.

“The workload in college is a lot more demanding,” she said. “Nobody is checking to see if you’re on top of things, it’s your responsibility.”

Kevin Winford is a member of Eastern’s men’s basketball team. The fifth-year senior carries a 3.48 GPA and will graduate in the spring with a business degree and an emphasis on management information systems. Winford would like to pursue computer programming as a career.

Born in Kansas and later moving to Japan, California and then Alaska, Winford arrived in Cheney in 2008 from Anchorage where his father was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base and worked as a jet engine specialist.

The transition from high school to college for Winford was not hard at all he said. The biggest thing was being on his own and making sure he had time for the different aspects of college life.

He walked on the edge of losing his scholarship before getting things back on course. At the time, older players helped mentor him and direct him on the right course.

Winford has learned much more than the inner workings of computers while at Eastern. “It’s not all about book learning it’s learning about yourself,” he said.

(Next week you’ll learn more about other EWU student athletes.)

Paul Delaney can be reached at


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