It will be the end of an era for many Emerson College sports teams this spring.
Emerson College is preparing to move after 18 years from the Great Northeast Athletic Conference to the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference this fall, where they will face a higher level of competition that includes MIT, Babson College, Wheaton College, and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. The only teams not making the move to the NEWMAC is the men’s volleyball team because the NEWMAC does not compete at the varsity level in that sport.
Though Emerson College Interim Athletic Director Stanford Nance expressed appreciation for the GNAC, he acknowledged Emerson had wanted to make the jump to the NEWMAC since around 2005, citing tougher competition and an academic standard in line with Emerson College.
“Obviously it’s an upgraded league,” Nance said. “There will be some trying times for us in some sports, but I think in the big picture we line up with the schools [that are] in the conference academically, and at some point in time athletically as well.”
Nance said academics are first and foremost in Division III sports and that Emerson recruits good students, not just good athletes. Emerson’s softball team had the highest average GPA of any Division III softball team in the country in 2012 at 3.59.
“One thing about being a part of this community is you attract a very high-caliber student athlete,” Nance said. “So they can express themselves in a way that’s first class. It comes with the territory of Emerson being a niche school.”
Nance said added that while Emerson’s shares the same high academic standards as other schools in the NEWMAC, he doesn’t expect much competition between the schools in terms of recruiting.
“We’re not recruiting against the teams that [are] in the league because we attract a different type of student in terms of our major,” Nance said.
Nance also made clear that while academics are first and foremost, the Lions want to win championships.
“We do want to compete for championships,” Nance said. “Don’t ever underestimate that.”
Although he acknowledged the Lions will need time to get used to playing in a new league, Nance said he expects teams with full-time coaches — such as the basketball, softball, and women’s volleyball teams — to be competitive.
“I think you’ve got to look to the full-time coaches first,” Nance said, “and then the part-time coaches. It’s a trial and error period, meaning as we hire the new full-time coaches, elevate those part-time coaches to full-time, they will have an opportunity to recruit full-time.”
Men’s basketball coach Jim O’Brien said that while the NEWMAC is a good fit for his Lions, they have a lot of work to do. The men’s basketball team featured nine freshmen this past season and finished 15-12.
“We have our work cut out for us,” O’Brien said. “We have just about our whole team returning next year, but we’re going into a league that is clearly a notch above the league that we played in this year.”
“We need to shoot the ball better,” O’Brien said. “And our guard play needs to improve. We need to rebound the ball better, we need to get stronger. I think that’s going to be a key component. Our guys are going to have to make a huge commitment to the weight room, so that we’re going to be able to physically compete against the teams we’re going to be playing against.”
Despite the improvements the needs to makes, O’Brien said he’s still looking forward to competing in the NEWMAC.
“I think that in a lot of ways it’s a good move for us. I think from an academic standpoint and from a perception standpoint, I think that it’s a great league for Emerson College,” O’Brien said. “To be rubbing elbows with academic schools like MIT and Babson and some of the other schools that we’re going in with. I think that’s a good thing.”
Lions Men’s Basketball Forward Patrick Lowndes, who also plays on the soccer team, acknowledged the work he and his fellow teammates are going to have to put in to be competitive, but that he’s unfazed by the tougher competition the team will face in the NEWMAC.
“We’re very excited,” Lowndes said. “Personally, I like playing against the best, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Bianca Buono, who plays outfield and third base for the Lions softball team, said she was looking forward to facing new challenges in the NEWMAC. The softball team finished 11-1 in conference play last season and 14-10 overall.
“Not only is the NEWMAC so much better academically, but the competition is going to be so much better, especially for the softball team,” Buono said. “We’ve had a lot of success in the regular season in [the] GNAC. The past two seasons we’ve gone 22-2 in conference play.
“It’s awesome dominating, but at the same time we’re really excited for more challenging games,” she said.
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.