PASADENA, Calif. (Aug. 18, 2016) – Caltech's world-renowned science and engineering accomplishments are driven by some of the world's brightest minds. Along with intelligence and ingenuity, such level of achievement also requires dedication, practice and fearlessness – in short, a pioneering spirit.
That spirit often extends into another laboratory on campus. Scholar-athletes across the Institute's 19 varsity sports dedicate countless hours, tireless effort and extraordinary commitment to achieving success in intercollegiate athletics at Caltech. Success can be evident in many forms – teams winning games, individuals continuing to improve and goals being met. One way in which it is recognized is through the Academic All-America program.
The Academic All-America program is administered by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). It recognizes student-athletes across all NCAA Division and NAIA who have achieved success in balancing academics and athletics relative to their peers. Minimum qualifications for All-District recognition include a cumulative 3.30 GPA on a 4.0 scale, participation in at least half of a team's competitions and completion of at least one calendar year at the nominating institution.
Although the program began in the 1950s, it was not until 2003 that men's soccer alum Jonathan Simon became Caltech's first honoree at the District level. Just two years ago, the Beavers had seen only seven individuals recognized as Academic All-District, with track & field alum Jeremy Leibs earning the only Academic All-America distinction in Caltech history in 2005.
Since then, a trio of Beavers have joined those hallowed ranks. Rising seniors Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) and Christopher Bradley (Half Moon Bay, Calif. / Serra), along with graduated senior Aditya Bhagavathi (Plainsboro, N.J. / West Windsor-Plainsboro North), have combined to win five All-District and four All-America honors in these past two years alone. By no coincidence, the hard work and dedication they have put into both their academic pursuits and athletic performance has been evident in various teams' success over that period. Nearly every single team set one or more new records this past season while a slew of individuals wrote their own names into the record books as well.
Al-Rayes, Bhagavathi and Bradley were happy to share their thoughts as winners of this prestigious award.
This past year, Al-Rayes helped lead the Beavers to a program-record seven SCIAC wins in a season, which broke the title-winning 1953-54 team's mark of six. He re-set his own single-season and single-game records for blocks while leading the team in scoring, rebounding and free-throw shooting. He earned his first All-District honor this year on the most exclusive ballot of any sport recognized by the Academic All-America program.
Bhagavathi, who became the first Beaver in Caltech history to earn Second Team Academic All-America honors last year, capped his career with a second-place finish in the SCIAC cross country Multi-Duals and fourth place in the SCIAC Championships. Also the program's first two-time qualifier for the NCAA Championships, Bhagavathi led the Beavers to their first-ever regional ranking on the heels of his spring track & field title in the 5k, which made him a three-time All-SCIAC honoree.
Bradley followed up his 2014 program-record 134-goal campaign with an impressive all-around junior season in which he scored another 89 goals, assisted 25, made 30 steals, blocked 26 shots and drew 29 exclusions. He already has totaled an eye-popping 285 goals in his three years as a Beaver and, as one of just two Beavers to earn Academic All-America honors in multiple years, has a chance to become the only three-time recipient next year.
What value do you place on succeeding at such a high level in both academics and athletics?
Al-Rayes: More than I can express. Knowing I've tried my best in something and then succeeding is incredibly rewarding, especially when you've failed countless times in the past. I have a personal desire to reach my potential, both from an intellectual and an athletic standpoint. However, in a way being recognized for accomplishments is a way to inspire others.
Bhagavathi: I take a lot of pride in excelling in both academics and athletics. Both disciplines have shaped me as an individual and ingrained in me the credo of putting my heart into whatever I do. It's nice to be recognized for my achievements, although I truly treasure the experiences I had, the lessons I learned, and the friends I made along the way.
Bradley: Achieving success in academics is something I place great importance in. Studying at Caltech is not something everyone has the chance to do, and I've tried to take full advantage of my opportunities here. I enjoy the challenge that being a student-athlete at Caltech provides, and putting my all into sports is a huge part of who I am. I know how much effort it takes to balance academics and athletics, and over the past three years I have striven to do so at the highest level. Recognition of the work I have put in is obviously very nice, but to say I am the only one at Caltech who is so dedicated would be misguided.
How much time and effort does it take to achieve this level of success in both?
Al-Rayes: As you could imagine, an incredible amount of time and effort. Attempting to please your professors by completing assignments that are up to par with other Caltech students, while attempting to please your coaches by performing at an athletic level up to par with other college athletes is not easy. Of course I am not alone in this challenge; any committed Caltech student-athlete knows exactly what I am talking about. It isn't only about achieving your goals; it's about being passionate about the improvement process.
Bhagavathi: It took a strong commitment to both my studies and practice. I managed my time efficiently and sometimes passed on social gatherings. I would do it all over again!
Bradley: It's no secret that Caltech students have one of, if not the heaviest workload in the nation across the board. If you consider the spirit of the Academic All-America award, you could easily argue that there are numerous worthy candidates at Caltech that have made incredible achievements as student-athletes. As such, to be recognized as having overcome those challenges is a real honor.
What does it mean to be recognized for this award and represent Caltech student-athletes?
Al-Rayes: All my life I was surrounded by people who seemed to believe athletic success and academic success are mutually exclusive; that it was one or the other. But I've always had this burning desire to prove them wrong and this award is simply the embodiment of that testament. As a Caltech student-athlete, this notion is even further highlighted.
Bhagavathi: I found Caltech to provide a rigorous and enriching academic experience and I look back with very fond memories. Caltech athletes are a special breed of people.
Bradley: Being a NCAA athlete at any level is a time consuming commitment, but to do it at Caltech without neglecting schoolwork while still competing at a high level is truly a challenge. Having said that, during my time here I have found that you don't have to compromise your studies to be a successful athlete at Caltech. There have certainly been days where I have needed to miss a practice because of a particularly condensed period of coursework, or times when I had to miss a review or recitation session for a game. Yet, even considering the personal sacrifices I have made, I've found it worth it to compete with my teammates, who are some of my best friends and the people I can relate to the most. To put it simply, I wouldn't be who I am if I didn't take on the challenge of athletics at Caltech.
What are your personal goals, both at Caltech and beyond?
Al-Rayes: I simply want to perform as best as I possibly can as a Caltech student-athlete, both in the classroom and on the court. In terms of tangible goals, I would love nothing more than to be First Team All-Conference (hopefully Player of the Year), while also winning an Academic All-American award. Beyond my time at Caltech, I hope to pursue an overseas professional basketball career while I am still able to and then attend graduate school once I've had my taste of professional basketball.
Bhagavathi: My personal goals as an athlete were to push myself to the highest performance I could attain, such that I would be able to leave having no regrets. Having completed my college years, I now carry with me the drive and determination that I cultivated through my athletic participation.
Bradley: I still have a lot left to accomplish at Caltech. In water polo, we have improved as a program each of the three years I have been here, and I believe we are ready to take the next step and begin to really compete and win in conference. Outside of the pool, I plan to attend graduate school next year to pursue a degree in Aerospace Engineering. Until then, I will be focusing on my classes and the projects I am working on in conjunction with the Caltech UAV Engineering club, of which I am one of the founding members.
What would you you say to other student-athletes about balancing the workload and commitment, and striving to excel in both academics and athletics?
Al-Rayes: At a place like Caltech, you have to maintain your passion for learning while also keeping a competitive edge. Staying passionate about learning will keep you sane in the classroom while staying competitive will make you want to be the best player in the conference. It's not going to be easy but it will be worth it. Finally, stay humble. You'll always find people smarter or better than you at your sport, but the only way to truly improve in anything is by surrounding yourself with people who are better at what you're trying to improve in.
Bhagavathi: I would challenge them to believe that they are capable of working harder and achieving more than they may think they can. Caltech may prove demanding at times, but the right attitude is key to succeed in the long run.
Bradley: As I mentioned above, though it isn't easy, it is very possible to succeed both academically and athletically at Caltech. It sounds obvious, but good time management is imperative when balancing classes, sets, and projects with practices, games, and tournaments. Everyone at Caltech is self-motivated academically, so all you need to do is to find a reason to put forth the same effort in for your athletic endeavors. Personally, I am motivated by my teammates, and the prospect of accomplishing something that hasn't been done in years. Though it has been a struggle at times, working as hard as I did to achieve what I have at Caltech has been completely worth it. Thankfully, the work is not yet done.