MCLA Does it Right
NORTH ADAMS, MA- Judging by recent success, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts is no longer a second-rate institution when it comes to athletics, and for that you can thank academics.
The women's and men's soccer teams both have shown immense improvement over the past few years. In the 2009-10 season, the women's basketball team improved by leaps and bounds. Three years ago, the men were a dismal 1-24, yet this year the Trailblazers tied their record for wins in a season (17) and played in the postseason ECAC tournament for the first time.
Baseball has grown under the guidance of coach and sports information director Jeff Puleri, while the softball team is ushering in a new era under former Hoosac Valley coach Mike Ameen.
All this sounds great, but what really puts MCLA above all other schools in the MASCAC lies on the academic side. From the fall season, 45 of 100 MCLA student-athletes were named to the MASCAC All-Academic Team, which is tops in the conference. From the spring of last season, 38 were named to the team.
In a time where many colleges put athletic prowess above all else, MCLA still keeps the focus more on the student than the athlete.
On Monday at the Blue and Gold luncheon, an event designed to recognize MCLA's athletes, school president Mary Grant gave a rousing speech to a crowded room.
"I am so proud of the leadership for always bringing the best foot forward," she said. "Our success comes from much more than one good season -- it's the sum of all the parts."
Right on, president.
From a sports media standpoint, Puleri is MCLA. Not only does he spend an insane amount of time getting news to us after events we can't cover, but he is constantly preparing for the baseball season, and is visible at nearly every athletic event.
The men's soccer team completed back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1998-99 thanks to the guidance of coach Adam Hildabrand, a familiar face on the MCLA campus.
Led by coach Deb Raber, the women's program went to the ECAC tournament for the second straight year. Talk to any of Raber's players and they will tell you she is one of the best coaches one could ask for.
Jamie Morrison led the men's basketball team to it's first-ever ECAC bid after tying the school record with 17 regular season victories. The players seemed to be having a lot of fun on the court, which is a symptom of Morrison's fun-loving persona. Though the core of the team is graduating, Morrison has in place a great group of smart and athletic players for the future.
And let's not forget the women's squad, coached by the shy but intense Holly McGovern. In 2009-10, the 'Blazers set the school record for wins in a season with 18, and won the MASCAC tournament for the first time. In turn, they played in the NCAA tournament. This season saw much of the same for the MCLA women. Led by 2010-11 conference Player of the Year Jen Wehner, the Trailblazers won 17 games and showed the league the Trailblazers are becoming a power.
Ameen said with all of the attention the other sports garnes, it's been easier for him to recruit.
"When high school kids pick up the paper and read about MCLA teams playing in the postseason, it really makes my job easier," he said. "Those kids may know me, but they also know the school can succeed."
In a time when you can't go more than a few weeks without reading about recruiting scandals at major schools, MCLA is a breath of fresh air. Have you ever heard of Puleri, Hildabrand, Raber, McGovern or Morrison be accused of giving improper benefits to recruits? No, because they all have their values in place.
The coaches and administration place a premium on the student before hampering down on the athlete.
If only the Division I schools could take a page out of MCLA's book.