Proud to be a nerd’

Delaney Conway has endured two coaching changes during her five years playing on the women’s basketball team. She started 22 games during the 2004-05 season, when the Vikings went 3-23. The past three years have garnered just 27 wins.

Delaney Conway has endured two coaching changes during her five years playing on the women’s basketball team. She started 22 games during the 2004-05 season, when the Vikings went 3-23. The past three years have garnered just 27 wins.

Playing under Conway’s third coach, the team (20-7, 10-4 Big Sky) appears on the rise and will compete in the Big Sky tournament for the third year in a row. Throughout the program’s numerous seismic shifts, Conway, a 22-year-old senior forward, said it was academics that helped provide stability during some of the hard times.

Despite some ups and downs on the hardwood, the lanky 6-footer has been nothing if not consistently excellent in the classroom: Conway, a pre-med science major, holds a 3.99 GPA and earned less than an A-grade just once in her five years at PSU-an A-minus during her first term.

“I was actually pretty proud of it. I’ve never been one who thought I’m going to die if I don’t get an A,” Conway said. “I always thought that I would work as hard as I could and be happy with whatever grade I earned.”

That work ethic helped Conway earn ESPN The Magazine/CoSIDA first team Academic All-America honors for the 2007-08 season, which were announced last Tuesday.

“It’s kind of crazy. I was definitely honored,” Conway said. “It’s a great honor because I’ve always put a lot of time and effort into my academics.”

Conway, a deadly outside shooter and tenacious defender, joins Tennessee junior Candace Parker, Colorado senior Jackie McFarland, Indiana State senior Laura Rudolphi and Drake senior Lindsay Whorton as first-team honorees.

“It’s a huge honor for her. It’s great that Portland State had a role in reaching that goal. She’s an absolute tribute to our university,” said athletic director Torre Chisholm. “Senior leadership is a key element to most successful teams.”

Kim Manifesto was a third-team honoree in 1994-95 while Portland State competed in Division II. Manifesto also earned an honorable mention nod in 1995-96. Kristi Smith was a two-time honorable mention athlete for the Vikings in 1994-95 and 1995-96.

The honor is just the latest for Conway in a breakout season for both the player and her team. Conway has been named Big Sky Player of the Week three times, and the women’s basketball team earned its first 20-win season as a Division I program with Saturday’s victory over Eastern Washington.

Head coach Sherri Murrell said Conway, averaging 12.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, has found a balance between her athletic commitments and academic pursuits.

“You are what you emphasize. We really do emphasize balance and to not think basketball 24-7. I like the fact that she does a lot of volunteer work at Dornbeckers,” Murrell said. “For her to balance her life outside of the gym, I think she’s done a good job.”

Conway said part of her success at balancing the challenges of being a student-athlete comes from the cooperation of coaches and professors who helped “create an atmosphere where it’s okay to be a real student-athlete here at Portland State.”

She said the coaching staff has moved practice times to accommodate her school schedule and professors have worked with her to compensate for missed class time during travel weeks.

“The faculty has been very supportive working with me. It’s an honor and there are a lot of people to thank for enabling me to do so well,” Conway said. “When it came down to it, my teachers were very supportive.”

Conway said one of her early challenges was learning to balance the rigors of playing Division I basketball against the enormous time demands of being a science major with aspirations of one day tacking “Doctor” instead of “forward” in front of her name.

“I would say my earlier years in college were a little more challenging organizing my time. I would say time management has been the biggest skill I’ve had to acquire in college playing sports,” she said. Conway added that her parents helped instill a work ethic and helped her keep in mind “the big picture.”

Conway is studying for the MCAT medical school exams and wants to attend the University of Washington in her hometown of Seattle or Oregon Health and Science University, where she has been volunteering at the Dornbeckers Children’s Hospital. She said she hopes to go into sports medicine and one day work as a team doctor, a perfect avenue to combine her two passions.

However, before Conway rushes off to the next phase of her life, there is still some business left to finish on the basketball court. The Vikings are 20-7 with two games remaining and have an outside shot at hosting the Big Sky Conference Tournament.

“This year has been everything to me as far as basketball goes. You couldn’t ask for more than this. For it all to come together like it has in the last year, there’s no better way for me to end my athletic career. I’m going to end on a great note,” she said. “This year has made every experience worth it.”

Conway’s study tips for student-athletes

1. “Get to know your professors. Sometimes you get stereotyped as an athlete, and sometimes that’s not a good thing. Let them know you are going to work with them. Getting [professors] on your side is a huge thing.”

2. “Be proud of being a nerd and wanting to achieve in school. Sometimes that’s hard in sports in college athletics and the hype of everything.”

3. “Be disciplined with time management. Find time to study. I guess that’s kind of obvious, but it was the hardest thing for me.”