SAN ANTONIO (June 30, 2011) -- Prior to the fall of 2007, sports at Our Lady of the Lake University were non-existent until the introduction of volleyball and men’s soccer that same year. Fall 2011 will welcome the fifth year of athletics on campus. But what has happened in the past four years?
Only five years into the introduction of sports, the athletics department has grown considerably. OLLU now has both men’s and women’s basketball, cross-country, soccer and tennis teams along with women’s volleyball and softball.
Not only has there been an addition of more teams, but the fact is that all of those teams have had quick success, a feat that is not often seen in new programs.
Just during the 2010-2011 season, all but one Saints team has been in the top four out of a 14-member conference. Men’s soccer reached the conference semifinals, and women’s soccer reached the championship match. Men’s and women’s tennis competed in the NAIA regional tournament with the men finishing in third place. Volleyball made it to the conference semifinals and softball was a win away from the championship match. Also, for two years in a row, women’s cross-country runner Miriam Vazquez (at right) qualified for nationals. Last year, men’s golfer Aaron Flores qualified for the nationals as an individual, and this year, the entire team made it to the national championship tournament.
Athletic Director (AD), Jack Hank, has been one of the people responsible for making the sports program flourish the way it has, but even he is surprised with how quickly the teams have seen success.
“It’s gone far beyond my expectations in regard to the type of program, the success of the program, the respect that we have been able to garner in the conference and even around the nation,” Hank said.
He described the program as going from “zero to 90 mph in a heartbeat. It’s been a rocket ship,” Hank said as he chuckled.
OLLU President Tessa Martinez Pollack has also been pleased with the way athletics has prospered.
“I’m happy it got started because students had really been hungry for a college and university climate, and athletics seems to be a part of that.”
The AD was quick to point out that the success and the respect the program has received goes back to the student-athletes, the coaches and the institution’s commitment to have the program succeed.
Hank mentioned that it was important that every coach hired understands the mission of the university and the emphasis it places on academics.
“Almost every coach who is here has had to start from scratch, and with that in mind, the success of the program has been in their hands,” Hank said.
|Volleyball's Lauren Eveler was a two-time NAIA Scholar Athlete.|
Every coach has had to recruit and build teams that would be successful out on the field but also academically according to Hank.
In 2009-2010 year, the OLLU Saints teams received the Red River Athletic Conference GPA Award for having the highest GPA of any other institution member of the conference demonstrating the success athletics has brought off the field. In addition, several student-athletes have been selected as members of the national NAIA Scholar Athlete teams – a honor bestowed on junior- and senior-level athletes who finish the season with a 3.5 GPA and above.
Our Lady of the Lake University also stresses the importance of the NAIA’s Champions of Character program that is designed to instill an understanding of character values in sports. Since beginning the intercollegiate athletics program, the university has been named a Champions of Character institution, and last year, it was selected as a “Five-Star Institution” by demonstrating a commitment to integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership.
The student-athletes at OLLU are role models, they get involved in student government, they volunteer for nonprofit organizations throughout the city, they participate in campus ministry activities, they work with children at summer camps, plus a lot more.
With success on the field, in the community and in the classroom, the Saints look to keep improving.
“Every coach and every program wants to have a championship,” Hank said.
“To talk about goals at this point in time, there’s only one thing we have left to do and that’s win the conference,” Hank said. “That’s what every coach is looking for.”
However, championships are not greatly stressed. Hank explained that a championship is only a goal and not a form of obsession.
“At any given day you’re going to meet your match and even lose. If you lose at the wrong time, game over.” Hank said.
“We’re here for an education. The most important thing to emphasize is education,” Hank said.
This balance between athletics and academics is also greatly stressed by President Pollack.
“The thing that’s made me proudest is the way in which we have really stayed the course about the balance between athletics and academics,” Pollack said. “There are some colleges and universities that do strange and weird things in the name of athletics and that’s a place where we never want to go.”
There is no pressure to win a championship from the AD.
|Krystal Manning and Justin Porter were basketball's first graduates.|
With as much success as the athletic department has achieved and the teams working toward a championship, Hank has already been asked to look ahead to the next five years of the program.
“We’ve completed our strategic plan which was to get to this point,” Hank said. “The executive vice president has asked me to come up with a potential strategic plan for which to follow.”
Currently, the only sports in which OLLU does not participate within the Red River Athletic Conference are baseball and track and field, which could be possibilities in expanding the program. However, the AD has to look over the proposed strategic plan with the president and various groups like student government and the student life committee to see in which direction is best to go.
Hank also mentioned that money becomes an important factor in expanding. The amount of money invested into a certain sport is crucial. Operation budgets, scholarships and even facilities are expenses that have to be taken into account.
The pace of growth has been a good one in the eyes of Pollack. The growth of the athletics program depends greatly on the budget for the department.
“What we can continue to do during the next five years is graduating our athletes,” Pollack said. “We should stay true to that philosophy of academics and athletics and graduating our athletes.”
The overall impact on the institution is just as important. According to Hank, sports are a natural in recruiting students to the institution.
“It’s a natural that you get some positive publicity off of sports,” Hank said. “There are about 210 students that I can identify as being recruited to this school that are still here.”
|Gary Hamilton, captain of the men's soccer team, excels in the classroom as well.|
Some of those students may not be playing actively on a team, but nonetheless, they are still here because they were recruited to play a sport.
Athletics has also helped the university reach new places by the way of recruiting according to Pollack.
“[Athletics] has attracted students and has also taken us to places for recruiting students who maybe we would have missed,” Pollack said.
However, there are other things to consider as far as impact on the institution goes. Hank pointed out that if a baseball program were to be introduced there are many factors that have to be considered.
“Baseball is a different breed of cat because baseball starts in the spring, but goes all the way past graduation.”
The 2011 NAIA Baseball World Series begins May 27 and crowns a champion either June 2 or June 3.
“You have to think about the commitment because you have to keep people here in your residence halls and you have to feed them,” Hank said. “So baseball is a different outside-of-the-semester situation. And how much money does it cost to figure it out?”
Not only that, but baseball would have to be played somewhere off campus according to Hank. There is not enough land on which to build a baseball field. The sports that the university participates in were chosen because the facilities to accommodate each sport were already here.
Hank says that the strategic plan has to be looked at and broken down to see what is best for the university.
“As a university we’re moving positively forward with applications, deposits and registration. Retention is at an upswing. I think the university is moving in the right direction and I think athletics has played a part in that,” Hank said.
“You really couldn’t have asked for a better athletics program that got started like it did,” Pollack said.
The NAIA Champions of Character program aims to instill five core values in NAIA athletes, coaches: respect, responsibility, integrity, servant leadership, and sportsmanship. Our Lady of the Lake University shares and supports these values and strives to promote the Champions of Character program by working with students, coaches through our Champions of Character educational program. For more information on the Champions of Character program, click here: www.championsofcharacter.org.
Luis A. Lárraga
Sports Information Assistant