Western Carolina’s softball team has been knocking the ball out of the park, academically speaking. The squad posted the top NCAA Division I GPA, with a 3.673, as the Easton/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 10 Academic Team rankings for the 2016-17 school year were announced in October. The rankings recognize the academic prowess of softball teams across seven membership divisions.

The ranking is the highest in school history for the Catamounts, as the club posted a ranking of fifth in the 2015-16 season. The top spot is also the highest by a softball team from the Southern Conference. The next highest mark for a Southern Conference school, in the 2016-17 season, was No. 41 by East Tennessee State, with a team GPA of 3.448.

Rounding up the nation’s top10 were Missouri State (3.648 team GPA), Alabama (3.647), Middle Tennessee State (3.616), Sacred Heart (3.605), Saint Louis (3.594), Harvard (3.588), Troy (3.585), Western Kentucky (3.569) and Kent State (3.568).

Just a couple of weeks after the ranking was announced, the team landed 11 players on the NFCA All-America Scholar-Athlete list. To be an NFCA scholar-athlete, a player must earn a 3.5 or higher GPA over a full academic year.

Coach Jim Clift said high academic achievement has become part of the culture for WCU softball, with no player on this year’s squad with a GPA below 3.1.

“After every semester, each coach here meets with Chancellor David Belcher to review each sport’s academic performance. During a recent meeting with me, the chancellor asked, ‘How do you do it?’ Of course, I would love to have been able to tell him that I tutor each student-athlete and run study sessions, which I don’t,” Clift said. “What I actually told him was, I recruit ‘character.’ People of good character take care of business on the field, off the field and in the classroom. My players are of the highest character.”