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UND wins Big Sky's Presidents' Cup for first time ever

Amanda Hajdu started making preparations for UND athletics teams to have a successful year last summer.

Hajdu, the athletic department's director of academic services, began communicating with professors and student-athletes about how to handle increased school absences due to long runs in Big Sky Conference tournaments and appearances in NCAA tournaments.

She even did this exercise for teams that hadn't been historically successful.

"The past couple of years, we've really tried to start forecasting as much as we can," Hajdu said. "Even if it's something that isn't going to end up happening, even if it's something that's never happened, like softball making the conference tournament.

"We really tried to start communicating with professors ahead of time that this is a possibility."

In addition to winning Big Sky regular-season titles in volleyball, football and men's and women's basketball—and softball and women's tennis reaching the league playoffs for the first time ever—UND also set its school record for student-athlete grade-point average during the 2016-17 athletic season.

The combination of athletic and academic success led to UND winning the Presidents' Cup for the first time in school history, the Big Sky announced Monday.

The Presidents' Cup is awarded to the school that ranks first in a combination of athletic success in the Big Sky Conference, Academic Progress Rating and GPA.

Eastern Washington had won it the previous two seasons. The Eagles finished second behind UND this season. Montana finished third.

"It's incredibly exciting," Hajdu said. "Coming off of winning four conference titles, to also have one of our best academic semesters and years ever, it's the total package. It's so cool."

UND athletic director Brian Faison, who routinely puts academic incentives in the contracts of his head coaches, said: "This is great recognition of the tremendous job that our student-athletes, our coaches, administrative staff and, in particular, the academic support staff have done this year. It's been an incredible year and this award recognizes both athletic accomplishment and academic accomplishment.

"What a special year it's been to win four major championships in the Big Sky and for our student-athletes to have done the job they did, it's been incredible. And again, it goes back to what's really been the case at North Dakota and that is student really comes first in student-athlete and that's definitely borne out with this award."

UND had the best APR score in the Big Sky for the fifth straight season, scoring 991.1, while finishing third in team GPA with a 3.31, led by the 3.57 GPA by the women's golf team.

"For the most part, the APR and GPAs are so improved because the coaches have been amazing," Hajdu said. "There are a couple of teams who have been shooting for a GPA for a couple of years and they finally got it this year. Obviously, our student-athletes have to be able to figure this out and get crazy-awesome GPAs, too."

UND will display the Presidents' Cup on campus during the next season—its last as a full member of the Big Sky.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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