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Jonalyn Wittwer takes a three-point shot during a game against New Mexico Highlands University on Jan. 19, 2019 in Denver. Photo by Ed Jacobs.

Balancing basketball and biochemistry

MSU Denver Women's Basketball standout Jonalyn Wittwer is named Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference's Academic Player of the Year.

February 27, 2019

By Rob White

Jonalyn Wittwer’s world is a mix of immunology and in-bounds plays, of parasitology and pick-and-rolls, of balancing a biochemistry lab with developing one of the deadliest 3-point shots in the region.

Few do it better.

The Metropolitan State University of Denver senior is an NCAA Division II record holder on the court, and she has also been recognized as the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference’s Academic Player of the Year for her accomplishments both on the court and in the classroom.

Carrying a 3.95 grade-point average while majoring in biology, and trying to manage life as a high-achieving student and athlete? Wittwer wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Honestly, being an athlete helps,” she said. “It makes you have to focus on being more efficient with your time. It’s been a good balance for me. I like having that, I wouldn’t say pressure, but time constraint. It keeps you from procrastinating.”

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Wittwer, who goes by the nickname Joni (which is pronounced, “Johnny”) had her most difficult academic semester this past fall, taking a course load that included the aforementioned classes along with general ecology.

Tanya Haave, head women
Tanya Haave, head women's basketball coach at MSU Denver, talks with guard Jonalyn Wittwer during a game on Jan. 19, 2019 in Denver. Photo by Ed Jacobs.

No sweat. At least off the court.

“From the moment she stepped on campus she has known how to manage her time,” said Tanya Haave, MSU Denver women’s basketball coach. “She’s very mature in that way. She knew what she needed to get done. She was able to prioritize among basketball, social life and academics. And she knew what she wanted to do and where she wanted to go. She’s had a plan, stuck to the plan, and executed the plan.”

Since she did most of the heavy academic lifting early in her collegiate career, Wittwer has been able to get ready for the next phase of her life this semester while taking one five-hour class, an online class, and a one-credit class. It has given her the chance to begin work as a certified nurse’s assistant, doing in-home care, beginning in March.

“It’s been kind of tough,” Wittwer said of her past class schedules. “Last semester was brutal to actually get through, but once I did, it’s really nice where I am now.”

On the court, Wittwer will leave MSU Denver as one of the most decorated 3-point shooters in school history. She is fourth on the Roadrunners’ all-time list with 147 made baskets from beyond the 20-foot, 9-inch arc.

And perhaps no one will ever duplicate what Wittwer did the night of Jan. 19 at the Auraria Event Center.

Playing against New Mexico Highlands, Wittwer connected on a 3-point shot at the halftime buzzer – her third make in six tries to that point, an excellent percentage. In the second half, though, she shot eight more 3-pointers. And she made every one of them.

Her total of 11 made 3-pointers in a single game smashed the previous school record of eight and the RMAC record of nine. And, by making nine straight 3s in a single game, Wittwer tied the NCAA Division II national record that had been accomplished only twice previously.

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“Obviously you can’t get the shot without the assist, so I’m thankful for everyone on my team,” Wittwer said that night. “It’s pretty crazy and I feel very thankful. I’m very thankful for my teammates.”

But the accolades were only beginning for Wittwer, who was named the RMAC’s Academic Player of the Year two weeks later.

“It feels good to be acknowledged for the work that I’ve put in, not just on the court but in the classroom, too,” Wittwer said of that honor. “Because for me, personally, that’s a really big deal. It’s something I take pride in, and I always have. It’s something that not everyone can do. It’s hard to balance sports and academics. It takes a lot of work, so I’m proud of myself for that. I’m also really thankful to be acknowledged in that realm.”

Jonalyn Wittwer handles the ball during a game against Western Colorado University on Dec. 16, 2018 in Denver. Photo by Ed Jacobs.
Jonalyn Wittwer handles the ball during a game against Western Colorado University on Dec. 16, 2018 in Denver. Photo by Ed Jacobs.

Wittwer’s academic honor represented the fourth time in five years that MSU Denver has had the academic player of the year in the conference, which includes players from 16 schools.

To be considered for the RMAC’s all-academic team, student-athletes must have a grade-point average of 3.30 or better. Two other Roadrunners – star point guard Jaelynn Smith and sophomore guard Mariah Schroeder – were included on the RMAC’s 10-player all-academic team.

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