With perfect 4.0 career grade point averages, Janine Kuwahara (bowling), Maddie Mortimore (tennis) and Josh Reynolds (football) highlighted Sam Houston athletics’ most successful season in 2015-16.
The university’s 415 student-athletes posted department grade point averages (GPA) of 3.22 in the fall and 3.11 in the spring. The fall mark is the best in school history. The spring GPA is the department’s third highest ever.
Kuwahara, a junior, and Mortimore and Reynolds, both seniors, earned recognition as College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) NCAA Division I Academic All-Region selections.
“Only 12 student-athletes from a nine-state area that includes teams from the Big 12, SEC, American Athletic, Conference USA, Sun Belt, Big Sky and Southland leagues receive this high honor in each sport,” associate athletic director Chris Thompson said. “To have three student-athletes from Sam Houston all so honored in the same year is fantastic.”
Additionally, Kuwahara was named to the 2016 CoSIDA Academic All-America honor squad and received the coveted NCAA Elite 90 Award at the NCAA Women’s Bowling Championship. The Elite 90 honor is presented to the top academic student-athlete at every NCAA national championship event.
“In athletics, a 4.0 grade point average represents perfection,” Thompson said. “Janine, Maddie and Josh all have defined the term student-athlete since they arrived on campus. They are gifted in their athletic careers and each has earned their undergraduate degree. They all are moving on to work on a master’s.”
Kuwahara, an accounting major from Davao City in the Philippines, was home-schooled by her mother, Vevian, since fifth grade. As a successful bowler in internationally for the Philippine Youth National Team, she never imagined she would be able to attend college and bowl at the same time.
“When I got the offer to bowl in America, everything changed for me,” Kuwahara said. “I was thinking it would be hard coming from a different country, but everyone has been friendly and my teammates are awesome. They are my roommates as well. They have been good friends.”
Told by her national team committee members that Sam Houston head coach Brad Hagen had contacted them about recruiting her, Kuwahara at first was skeptical.
“When I got the offer, some people were asking me if it was legitimate,” Kuwahara said. Her father, who is Japanese but grew up in the United States and graduated from Washington University in Saint Louis, told her it was indeed a genuine offer.
“My dad helped a lot. I started to understand that I could go to school and bowl at the same time.”
Fourteen time zones away from her home, Kuwahara has fit in well. Her freshman season she helped lead the Kats to the NCAA championship. This year she earned All-America and team “Most Valuable Player” honors as Sam Houston ranked No. 6 nationally after the program’s fifth NCAA Championships berth in six years.
Mortimore also crossed an ocean to come to Huntsville. The economics and international business major from Farnham, Surrey in England, was the lone senior on the 2016 women’s tennis team. With 63 career singles wins, she owns third highest victory total in program history.
The two-time All-Southland performer claims she will always remember her first impression of Texas.
“It was hot,” Mortimore said. “Going from the air terminal to the car park, I was sun burnt already. My first day, I was wearing red shorts. I remember being the same color as the shorts.”
Active off the court, she has served as an officer for the student-athlete advisory committee and as a tutor in the learning enhancement center.
“It’s been a lot of fun. I enjoyed those activities as much as tennis and school,” Mortimore said. “I love tutoring, giving back by using the knowledge I’ve gained in four years to help other student-athletes. It’s fulfilling when you help someone develop the study skills and habits that help them succeed. I’ve enjoyed my time here. Those who know me probably say I haven’t been ‘Americanized’ that much. But there’s definitely parts of Texas culture that I have incorporated into my life.”
Reynolds, who has earned his bachelor’s degree in mass communications and now is in the sports administration master's program, has a back-story that reads like the script from the 1993 movie “Rudy” about an undersized high school player who walks-on at Notre Dame finally makes the field for the big game.
Five feet, 10 inches tall and 145 pounds as a senior at Axtell, Texas, he never really got a look from college recruiters. He joined the Bearkat football team as a freshman manager in 2011 and followed up by trying out to play on the scout team.
“Whatever I had to do to it make it, I was going to do,” Reynold said. “They saw I worked hard, gave me an opportunity and eventually I just got better and better.”
Reynolds was part of a football program that won conference championships in 2011, 2012 and 2014 and earned five consecutive berths in the NCAA Division I Football Championship playoffs.
“Being on the scout team, I liked being a part of something big,” Reynolds said. “That kept me with it and pushed me harder to prove I could play on Saturdays.”
When K. C. Keeler and his new staff took over in 2014, Reynolds stepped into a role of reserve wide receiver. He scored his first touchdown as a junior against Incarnate Word and caught two passes for 32 yards in front of more than 50,000 fans in Lubbock in the 2015 season opener at Texas Tech.
“All the hard work was worth it,” Reynolds said. “There’s a lot of stuff we do behind the scenes but, Saturday, on game day it pays off.”
Reynolds, Kuwahara and Mortimore all were recognized at the winners of the Fred Gibson top male and female Scholar Athlete Awards at the Night of Champions celebration in May.
Building Champions results in more than winning games, it involves creating well-rounded student-athletes. To do this, resources such as the SHSU Learning Enhancement Center and the department's tutoring programs are important tools in assisting Kat student-athletes accomplish their goals in the classroom and in life.
Support the Bearkat Champions Academic Fund to directly impact the future of more than 400 student-athletes at the BEARKAT CHAMPIONS ACADEMIC FUND link