CCSU Celebrates Triumph on Special Day at Arute Field

Mike Mushaw’s selfless act saved a baby girl’s life.

Prior to Central Connecticut’s NEC football home game on November 9, Mushaw had the opportunity to meet that child face to face for the first time.

Accompanied by her family, young Eleanor joined Mushaw for the game’s opening coin toss.

A little more than two years ago, Mushaw entered a bone marrow donor registry and submitted a DNA sample through the “Be The Match” program. After discovering he was a perfect match with someone in need, Mushaw donated marrow in July 2018.

More than one year later, the recipient of that donation is doing well and has become a loyal supporter of CCSU football.

With the recipient and her family in attendance at Arute Field, Mushaw, fittingly, tackled SFU quarterback Jason Brown on the last play of overtime for a victory-clinching sack.

Hartford Courant columnist Mike Anthony recently provided an inspiring recount of the entire story that you can read here — Central Connecticut football celebrates life of young girl that junior linebacker Mike Mushaw saved by becoming a donor 📰

 

TWEET SHEET

 

#NECWBB: Warriors Prove More Than Ready for Division I Debut

Denia Davis-Stewart

 

Welcome to NCAA Division I basketball, Denia Davis-Stewart.

In Merrimack’s inaugural Division I game, the senior forward victimized Atlantic 10 member UMass with a triple-double.

Davis-Stewart poured in a game-high 31 points to go along with 13 rebounds and 12 blocks in a 79-64 road win.

The versatile post player, who was dominant on the defensive end, put her long-range shooting ability on display at UMass’ Mullins Center. Davis-Stewart, who went a perfect 7-for-7 from the charity stripe, sank 4 of 6 three-point attempts.

The senior’s performance was only the 14th triple-double ever recorded by a NEC athlete and it marked only the third time that a double-digit blocks total was part of the equation.

Merrimack sophomore Kate Mager also accounted for a memorable season debut. The sophomore guard shot 67 percent from downtown en-route to 22 points (no UMass player scored more than 17).

As a team, Merrimack shot 48.3 percent from the field while limiting the opponent to a measly 33.8 percent success rate.

It was already bound to be an historic night with Merrimack, which competed in the Division II NE-10 Conference last season, tipping off the four-year NCAA Division I reclassification process. Davis-Stewart, Mager and the Warriors simply made it that much more memorable.

 

 

Peters’s Preseason Takes: Identifying the Wildcards of the 2019-20 NEC Season

SHU’s Koreem Ozier

There’s a lot of talent coming back to the Northeast Conference this fall, likely resulting in an improved product on the floor. Opportunities for newcomers and previously underutilized players to shine however are abound, even for the rosters that return a vast majority of their scoring, rebounding and facilitating.

With the season merely a day away, I attempt to highlight the biggest wildcards whose performance could stand between a mediocre season and a championship season.

Virshon Cotton, Long Island University – Before I even had a chance to ask Derek Kellogg about Cotton’s potential impact, he offered this tidbit unprovoked: “Virshon is kind of in a good way a wildcard for us. I think he has the chance to breakout, be a really, really good player who could score the basketball. His athleticism allows him to really pressure the ball and cause some havoc on the defensive end of the floor.”

Of course, being a season removed from true competition on the hardwoods could lead to inconsistent play in the early going, but there’s no denying what Cotton brings to a Sharks roster that played Jashaun Agosto and Julian Batts a sizable amount of minutes last season. Cotton can handle the ball, set up teammates (16.8% assist rate in 2017-18), stroke it from long range (career 37.4% 3PT) and seamlessly guard one through three.

That’s a heck of a weapon to deploy on a title contender that already brings back their top four players.

Koreem Ozier, Sacred Heart – The Pioneers are ready for contention. As Matt and John articulated in their superb NEC preview, Sacred Heart is loaded with depth, playmakers, sharpshooters, rim protectors and veterans. It’s clearly a win-now roster, and yet, the biggest key to their team is a sophomore who barely played half of the team’s minutes last season? It may be unfair to place the burden of Sacred Heart’s upcoming season on the shoulders of Ozier, yet the 6’1″ guard is the most equipped athletically to emerge as Anthony Latina’s go-to scorer. If there was anything the program missed last season, it was that clutch player – such as Raiquan Clark, Isaiah Blackmon, Vado Morse – who could manufacture a clean look late in the game.

While Anthony Latina hedged his bets to take pressure off of Ozier at NEC Social Media Day, he did infer his guard is a candidate to get the ball late. “Koreem does have a unique ability to get a shot at any time,” Latina said. “Some guys just have that, he can get himself a look, whether it’s a mid-range game, whether it’s off the dribble, whether it’s get to the free throw line, so there’s no question he’s a guy whose number you can call late in the game and he’s a gamer and he likes the big spot.”

If Ozier has a productive season worthy of a spot on a league’s all-conference team, then it’s very hard to see how Sacred Heart doesn’t finish in the NEC top 3.

Bryant’s Ikenna Ndugba

Ikenna Ndugba, Bryant – It’s easy to forget the red-shirt junior averaged 13.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2 steals per game two seasons ago, but that’s the kind of production Grasso has coming back in his second season in Smithfield. And it’s far more than production that Ndugba provides. Despite his 6’0″ stature, the point guard’s insertion into Bryant’s rotation adds an element that makes the Bulldogs much more versatile. The Bulldogs struggled without a true facilitator last season, but with a healthy Ndugba occupying that role everyone else’s job should fall better into place. 

Grasso agrees with that sentiment when discussing what Ndugba brings to his program after a lost year due to a shoulder injury. “I think offensively he’s another guy who can get someone a shot, can score the ball and has an IQ, and knows how to play so I think he just makes us a better offensive team because of that,” he said.

Defensively, Ndugba posted the 104th best steal rate in Division I basketball during the 2017-18 campaign with a steal on 3.1 percent of the opponent’s possessions. He can be a game changer on both ends of the floor, especially when paired with Juan Cardenas and freshman Charles Pride.

Curtis Cobb and Alex Morales, Wagner – With ten newcomers on Bashir Mason’s roster – the most turnover he’s experienced in his decorated Wagner career – the vast majority of pundits are putting the Seahawks in the bottom half of their preseason standings. It’s a simple concept- what you don’t know usually results in a modest prognostication, hence the program’s current standing in our minds. But Cobb and Morales can easily blow out those expectations given their exceptional talent.

“Alex and Curtis, the talent jumps out right away,” Mason said at NEC Social Media Day. “You don’t know how they are going to take to our culture, playing hard and defending and all that stuff, but they’ve been pretty bought in since day one.”

Most understand that Cobb’s move from the Atlantic 10 to the NEC could lead to a top 5 scoring type of season. His production at Fairfield, although inconsistent, provides a glimpse into his potential with seven games at 20 points or more as a sophomore. Morales, on the other hand, is a bit of an unknown, yet those in the junior college circles will tell you Mason signed a game changer. He’s coming off a special season at Prince George’s Community College that earned him a Maryland JUCO Conference Player of the Year honor.

“There’s nothing he can’t really do on the basketball court and that he also has the IQ to go along with it, which is great,” Mason said about Morales back in August.

Wagner’s model of success relies on scoring balance, which they didn’t possess last season. For that trend to reverse, the duo of Cobb and Morales must take a leading role and allow others like Nigel Jackson, Chase Freeman and Will Martinez to slot in as complementary pieces. Wagner could surprise if such a scenario comes to fruition.

D.J. Russell and A.J. Bramah, Robert Morris – It’s not groundbreaking that I’m highlighting two more unknowns, both of whom emanating from the JUCO scene. Russell and Bramah have been raved about throughout the league, and it’s a poorly kept secret that if they provide Andy Toole with the kind of production he expects, the Colonials are back in the thick of the NEC title race.

Of Russell, he gives Robert Morris with a playmaker down low. “I think DJ is a really good rebounder, he’s good at scoring around the rim,” Toole said. “He has a good touch, he can use his right and left hands.” Bramah’s athleticism, meanwhile, gives Toole the ability to roll out versatile defensive lineups that could even include Bramah, Charles Bain and Yannis Mendy at the five.

Overall, quality play from those two should make up for the loss of Matty McConnell and Malik Petteway and, at the very least, improve Robert Morris’ 2-point efficiency. Over the past three seasons, the program has shot 43.8%, 45.9% and 47.3% from inside the arc, respectively. A return to the middle of Division I in that department (49 to 50%) paired with the 3-point prowess of the Williams brothers and Bain significantly improves Toole’s offense.

Others to Consider:

Karrington Wallace, Central Connecticut – After an inconsistent freshman campaign, which is typical for freshman bigs, Marshall awarded Wallace’s productive summer with a start in their exhibition contest versus Coast Guard. He produced with 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks and certainly has the hops to become a notable rim protector. An improvement off of a 4.6% block rate and 14.6% defensive rebounding rate last season would anchor a Blue Devils defense that could surprise league counterparts.

SFU’s Myles Thompson

Myles Thompson, Saint Francis University – As I illustrated last week, Krimmel’s stable of frontcourt players allows him to position reigning POY Keith Braxton as his true point guard. Clearly, if Krimmel didn’t have the confidence to give significant minutes to Thompson, a sophomore who last season showed glimpses in his first NEC rodeo, then Braxton’s move from the four to the one may not happen. As an undersized NEC big, Thompson has the skills and nose for the basketball to become one of the better rebounders in the league. Additionally, an improvement out on the perimeter would open up his scoring.

Malik Jefferson, Mount St. Mary’s – I love Jefferson’s game as a throwback – his post skills are somewhat unusual in an era where stretch fours and face up bigs dominate the scene. As a freshman, Jefferson posted an impressive 108.7 KenPom offensive rating, buoyed by a 59.4% conversion rate on 2s and a manageable 15.3% turnover rate. If Jefferson can improve his conditioning and footwork to avoid foul trouble, then the Mount should be sniffing the upper half of the league standings by season’s end with a promising frontcourt trio of Jefferson, Nana Opoku and Collin Nnamene.

Do you have a wildcard in mind? Feel free to share in the comments section!

 

Peters’s Preseason Takes: Thoughts and Reflections from NEC 🏀 Social Media Day

NEC Media Day at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2019.

Eight years. I’ve been coming to this event at the Barclay’s Center for eight years. A lot in the NEC has happened since then with 19 different head coaches passing through representing 13 teams. There have been six programs that were NEC regular season champions with four of those programs going on to represent the league in the NCAA tournament over that time span.

NEC Social Media Day at the Barclay’s has gone on so long that the first event in 2012 took place before the Brooklyn Nets ever played a regular season game in Brooklyn!

I had a whirlwind of a day last week interviewing 10 coaches and trying to gather up as much content as I could before the regular season tips off on November 5th. Allow me to organize my thoughts and reflections in one of my favorite posts: a recap of the NEC Social Media Day!

 

A Pioneer Push Up the Polls

Preseason polls mean absolutely zilch in the grand scheme of things. They merely serve as fodder for the fans and, for the bottom feeding teams, potential bulletin board material. These prognostications obviously have no bearing on the real standings, nor do they provide a program any type of advantage once the first jump ball goes up in November. That is all obvious.

The poll, however, does serve as a good measuring stick in determining how a program has progressed or declined over the past several years. We also can gain insight into which teams the coaches highly respect.

For Anthony Latina, it’s been a wild ride of peaks and valleys in his attempt to reboot Sacred Heart into an annual contender. Under Latina, the Pioneers have never been selected better than fifth in the NEC Coach’s Preaseason Poll and were the only program in that time frame failing to register a single first place vote prior to this preseason. Over the past six seasons, Sacred Heart has the worst average poll position with an average of 7.8.

 

Team AVG Poll Position Total 1st Place Votes
Wagner 3.8 11
Robert Morris 4.2 5
LIU 4.8 2
Mount 5.2 6
Bryant 5.2 1
Saint Francis U 5.3 18
FDU 5.5 8
SFBK 6.2 6
CCSU 7.0 3
SHU 7.8 0

That poll trend reversed mightily on Wednesday with the Pioneers getting selected as the second best team. They even got 3 first place votes for the first time in more than a decade!

 

 

For Latina, it’s been a complex route in getting Sacred Heart firmly onto the championship path. They seemed destined to compete annually, but then some high level contributors up-transferred, immediately halting the program’s progress. Now, after many long recruiting trips and sleepless nights, Latina finds his Pioneers in a position they quite frankly aren’t used to.

SHU’s Anthony Latina & EJ Anosike at NEC Media Day.

“It’s definitely a source of pride that we took some steps back and lost some guys prematurely and that we were able to recover.” Latina answered when asked if he’s prideful about Sacred Heart’s #2 poll position. “Without question, I take great pride in our program, but I take great pride not for me, but our players and for our school.”

The coach acknowledged the preseason polls are meaningless and that the hard work has yet to come. But he also fully understands his team is built to win-now even after graduating NEC all-conference first teamer Sean Hoehn. “We will be in a position to do something that no Sacred Heart team has ever done and if that’s not motivating, nothing will be,” he said.

Time will tell if the Pioneers put themselves in a position to win their first NEC tournament game since 2009 and make their first NEC tournament final since 2008.

 

A New Point Guard in Loretto

Recently, 6-8 forward Tyler Stewart was declared immediately eligible by the NCAA after playing just five games with Binghamton last season. His insertion into an already crowded frontcourt – Myles Thompson, Mark Flagg, Deivydas Kuzavas – may not seem like a big deal, but for Rob Krimmel Stewart’s ability to stretch the floor and provide versatility at three positions is a real positive for his 2019-20 roster.

“(He) gives us some more depth, and some length and experience too,” Krimmel answered when asked about Stewart’s insertion into the rotation. “It was a good jolt in the arm because it gives us another piece to the puzzle that we haven’t had. He’s a legit 6’8”; he can step out and shoot it, he can handle it…”

Krimmel confirmed Stewart’s presence firmly entrenches Keith Braxton as Saint Francis’ starting point guard moving forward. The days of featuring Braxton at the four in “small-ball” lineups are numbered. Instead, the Red Flash now can role out lineups out consisting of:

  • Braxton, Isaiah Blackmon, Randall Gaskins, Thompson, Flagg

Scott Meredith, an off-the-ball guard/sharpshooter, and Stewart would be the next logical pieces off the bench with Ramir Dixon-Conover spelling Braxton at times to provide selflessness and defensive tenacity at the one. It’s a different look compared to the days of alpha male and shot creation extraordinaire Jamaal King running the point.

As a result, I’d expect the Red Flash’s pace to slow down. With good effective height in various positions, the defense can focus more on containment rather than turnover generation. Jamion Christian employed a similar philosophy in his third year at the Mount, as the utilization of Andy Smeathers, Will Miller, Greg Graves, Taylor Danaher and Kristijan Krajina at the wing and frontcourt positions led to the best defensive efficiency in the league. They were able to keep defenders in front and make them take tough shots over their length. Krimmel is hopeful his team will enjoy a similar effect.

 

Merrimack and Their Unique Defense Enters the Fray

Merrimack’s Juvaris Hayes & Joey Gallo at NEC Media Day.

Merrimack head coach Joey Gallo is no stranger to the NEC. The Merrimack alum (2004) served on Andy Toole’s bench as an assistant from 2012-2016, overseeing a program that won a collective 76 games and three postseason games (2 NIT and 1 NCAA tournament) in four seasons.

While Toole’s tutelage was no doubt a positive for Gallo’s growth as a coach, it was the attacking, 2-3 zone employed by Robert Morris during the 2014 and 2015 championship seasons that likely was most beneficial in guiding Gallo’s transition to Merrimack. Back in 2014, the Colonials were down to eight scholarship players and with a lack of depth, Toole and his coaching staff abandoned their relentless man-to-man scheme and went with the unconventional zone.

It worked wonders as the Colonials finished in the top three of the league in defensive efficiency and turnover rate at the conclusion of the 2014 and 2015 seasons. In the latter season, the Colonials length and athleticism on the back end of the zone – Lucky Jones, Elijah Minnie and Rodney Pryor in particular – gave NEC opponents fits.

While Toole circled back to his man-to-man roots the following season, Gallo maintained a true appreciation for the zone after leaving for Merrimack. “He really enjoyed it, he liked teaching it and he thought it fit the personnel that they had,” Toole said when asked why he thought Gallo brought the zone defense to Merrimack. “So now he’s taking it on (at Merrimack) and trying to recruit off it and it’s certainly something that’s unique and different.”

In truth, Gallo was looking for a way to distinguish his team in a NE-10 league rife with man-to-man defense and motion offenses. He had just replaced a coach that was at Merrimack for an eternity and he simply was trying to make a mark in a return to his Alma mater. “It started off as we were going to play a little bit of both (man-to-man and zone) and it just kind of evolved from there. We had success with the (zone); it fit in to how this guy plays (looking at Juvaris Hayes), a lot of steals and created turnovers.”

Last season in the NE-10, Merrimack extracted an incredible 17.4 turnovers per game, leading to an average of 19.5 points scored off of those turnovers. It’s anyone’s guess how the zone will perform against Division I competition, but for now Gallo will take a fluid approach on a game to game basis.

“It forms the shape of what we’re playing against,” Gallo said when describing the versatility of his zone. There will be some games where he’ll plan to attack the perimeter and suppress 3-point shooting and others where the opponent’s frontcourt is the point of emphasis, resulting in crowding scorers and trapping the post if needed.

 

Robert Morris Back to Offensive Basketball

The UPMC Events Center will open this November for the first time, and Toole is hopeful the fans in attendance will be treated to something that’s eluded his program over the past few seasons: free-flowing, high-powered offensive basketball.

It’s been a grind of late for the Colonials in terms of scoring. Toole’s squad, decimated by transfers and early departures, found themselves routinely in the bottom quarter of the league in offensive efficiency over the past four seasons. That could change in Toole’s 10th season with the Williams brother and Charles Bain in the Robert Morris system for the past two-plus seasons.

RMU’s Andrew Toole & Josh Williams at NEC Media Day.

Somewhat surprisingly, KenPom projects a step back for the Colonial offense, likely due to the departures of Malik Petteway and Matty McConnell, both of whom were efficient in their own way. What KenPom cannot predict, however, is the impact of incoming junior college transfers D.J. Russell, A.J. Bramah and Jalen Hawkins. The newcomers, according to Toole, should slot in as rotation guys and provide Robert Morris with something the program has sorely lacked of late: 2-point efficiency.

Of Russell and Bramah, Toole is excited to incorporate their talents into his rotation. “Both guys are capable of making a play for themselves or a teammate,” he said.

Overall, Toole is really looking forward to see the offense’s potential and hopes it take some of the onus off the other side of the ball. “I think we have some really good offensive pieces. I think there’s a good understanding of what we’re supposed to be doing.”

 

More Options in Year Two for Bryant

With a core four of Ikenna Ndugba, Adam Grant, Bash Townes and Juan Cardenas in place, Grasso is searching for the options behind those players. While it’s possible someone from the freshman trio of Charles Pride, Benson Lin and Michael Green could find the starting lineup, Grasso isn’t tipping his hand. “If you walked in to watch us practice you wouldn’t know they’re freshmen. And a lot of it is their intensity, the time they’re in the gym and how they work at their game, how they work at their craft is not at the level of your average freshman,” he said.

Bryant’s depth moving into Grasso’s second season is much improved, so much so that that Grasso is hopeful his team will push the tempo and play fast, aggressive and loose. It was a philosophy he had to abandon in the middle of last season, after Bryant lost their first nine games when they had 70 or more possessions in the game (they finished 1-13 in those games). With Ndugba back and more talent to choose from in year two, it’s fair to assume Grasso will attempt to push the pace.

 

New Look Sharks Going Small Ball?

It’s not easy being at the top from the start, and if that wasn’t hard enough, now Derek Kellogg must navigate the first half of the 2019-20 season without a key power forward.

It’s an unfortunate injury for Penn, who by all accounts had a great summer and was poised to become one of the best two-way players in the NEC. Now, LIU’s depth constricts some, yet the talent remains to contend with the league’s best.

“I think it puts more onus on the guys that played already – the four stars coming back I don’t think they can take a night off.” Kellogg answered when asked what Penn’s injury does to his rotation. “I believe those guys have to be the cornerstones every time we step on the floor and I’m hopeful the other guys can chip in and do what they do as new guys.”

LIU’s Derek Kellogg & Julian Batts at NEC Media Day.

The core four Kellogg is referring to are preseason first teamer Raiquan Clark, Tyrn Flowers, Jashaun Agosto and Julian Batts. The roles won’t change for the veteran group, although a return to a smaller lineup may benefit Flowers some.

“It slides Ty Flowers to the 4 quite a bit more where I think he’s probably more comfortable and more of a tough match-up, so in some regards we will be fine offensively,” Kellogg said.

The addition of transfer Virshon Cotton also provides Kellogg with an element that he covets. “I love our overall team speed. I love the fact that we have three even four guys on the floor that can handle the basketball at once. I think we come at you in different ways, especially on the offensive side of the floor. Then I also like we can pressure the ball at different positions, not just from the point guard spot.”

The thing to watch in the early going is LIU’s defense, as Penn was LIU’s best rim presence, registering a block rate of 7.4% (80th nationally). Penn’s versatility and athleticism will be missed, yet his absence won’t stop Kellogg to push the pace and score as much as humanly possible. It promises to be a fun brand of basketball at the WRAC.

 

Quick Hits:

  • Wagner’s Atiba Taylor was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA recently. The 6’4″ guard, who played sparingly last season at Youngstown State as a freshman, has three years remaining and figures to have an opportunity to make Bashir Mason’s rotation.
  • Mount St. Mary’s has been a little banged up this preseason, as the reigning NEC Rookie of the Year Vado Morse admitted to nursing a knee injury for part of the summer. While he’s currently a full go in practice, red-shirt freshman Matt Becht (eye) and true freshman Ayan Teel (ankle) are out for the foreseeable future. Becht’s shooting and Teel’s floor general attributes were expected to bolster Dan Engelstad’s second unit, but getting healthy during the non-conference portion of the schedule remains the number one priority. Of the entire roster, Engelstad singled out Damian Chong-Qui, Nana Opoku and Collin Nnamene as players who’ve really improved their body and respective skill sets this offseason. (Check out this feature by Ryan Raffensperger on Chong-Qui)
  • Speaking of injuries, St. Francis Brooklyn sophomore guard Steven Krtinic has been banged up and hasn’t practiced with the team of late. It’s highly unlikely he’s ready for the start of the season, however freshman guard Rob Higgins has impressed according to his head coach. “Higgins has been terrific, he was great in our scrimmage the other day,” Glenn Braica said of Higgins, who scored more than 2,200 points for Middletown North in New Jersey. The 6’2″ combo guard was a late recruiting get for the Terriers after a scholarship opened up from Jalen Jordan’s transfer. It’s fair to expect a healthy dose of Chauncey Hawkins, grad transfer Unique Major (2 years of eligibility remaining) and Higgins in Braica’s backcourt.
  • Greg Herenda was noncommittal with which players would fill out his rotation behind the obvious foursome of Jahlil Jenkins, Kaleb Bishop, Elyjah Williams and Xzavier Malone. “I think we’re still in that process,” he admitted. “This year’s team is deeper, faster, more athletic, but it’s younger.” The likeliest candidate to start alongside FDU’s “core four” is sophomore Brandon Powell, who serves as nice complement in that he excels at moving the ball and knocking down open shots. The versatile BJ Saliba and athletic Brandon Rush should also compete for time at the two and three.
  • It’s clearly a rebuilding season in New Britain, yet there’s reason for optimism with the talent Donyell Marshall has recruited in year four. While he continues to evaluate the freshmen – he did note Greg Outlaw as someone who’s played well this preseason and that translated to their recent exhibition – it’s junior college transfer Stephane Ayangma and returning sophomore Karrington Wallace that should anchor the Blue Devils’ better than advertised defense. Of Ayangma, Marshall said: “We thought he was just pretty much going to be a junkyard dog, just a rebounder, physical guy, (but) he’s definitely a lot better offensively than we thought.” Wallace’s maturation has been a pleasant surprise for Marshall as he’s been “blocking shots like crazy” this preseason. The frontcourt pair, along with established perimeter stopper Ian Krishnan and junior college transfer Zach Newkirk, allow Marshall to declare this squad the best defensive team he’s been a part of since his arrival at Central Connecticut. They gave up just 0.80 points per possession versus D3 opponent Coast Guard, which is a nice start.

Overtime! Profile: #NECSAAC Co-Chair Vedika Anand (Wagner)

Vedika Anand

Overtime! Blog reporter Adrienne Terzuoli spent an afternoon with Wagner College women’s tennis player Vedika Anand. An international student-athlete from India, Anand has taken on a leadership role during her time in the United States. Below are Terzuoli’s key takeaways from her interview with the NEC SAAC Co-Chair. 

 

It was gloomy Tuesday at Wagner College, but Vedika Anand’s presence made it noticeably brighter.

I sat down with the Wagner senior tennis player to discuss her many responsibilities as a driving force behind the Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC).

I was sitting in one of Wagner’s administrative offices, looking over my questions, completely unaware of the time, when Vedika burst through the door with her giant smile. 

Dressed in the new tennis uniform; a black tank top with the Nike and Seahawk logos parallel to each other and a green skirt, she unnecessarily offered her apologies for her tardiness.  She was only two minutes behind schedule!

So, we settled ourselves and began the interview.

I had heard so much about Vedika and the crucial contributions she has made to Wagner SAAC as well as Northeast Conference SAAC. The NEC SAAC co-chair has been serving as one of the 32 conference reps for the national NCAA SAAC. 

Her reputation and resume precedes her, and I was excited to dive in and learn more about her, her student-athlete experience at Wagner, and maybe pick up a tip or two on how she manages to fit it all into her already busy schedule. 

She started by explaining her journey to Wagner as unconventional at best. 

“College athletics is not really a big thing back home [in India]. I had no idea what the recruitment process was like, but my dad was a big help. I reached out to a tennis player at Wagner, who was also from India and asked her some questions.  Fast forward to a few months later- they offered me a good scholarship and my mom and I made the trip to campus for move-in day.  Of course, we went to Target first.”

I immediately admired her for her leap of faith into the unknown, but she assured me that she was not concerned at all.

“My parents are big on travel, so I’ve been lucky to travel around quite a bit.  This wasn’t scary at all.  In fact it felt homey.  I came from a small high school and Wagner is a small college.  It all felt like family, and being part of athletics was a big part of that feeling.  Those are my people.  I wanted to get to know everyone.”

Vedika Anand

So what is SAAC and how did Vedika get involved? 

“At the time, both the president and VP of SAAC were on the tennis team.  There wasn’t an option, we all attended the meeting.   But once I got there and listened to what it was about, it was a no-brainer for me.  They were talking about ways to make Wagner athletics better as a whole, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that.  We were able to voice our concerns and suggestions to each other and the e-board would take it all to our AD and other administrators for discussion.”

She went on to say that, as a whole, the SAAC is ultimately a voice for student-athletes.

“The NCAA wouldn’t exist without student-athletes.  They are the foundation by which college athletics is built.  The people in SAAC are working to make the college athletic experience better.  They work with you and for you- for all athletes.”

It became clear to me, in just a short time, that Vedika is passionate about the work she does with SAAC.  In fact, she is so passionate that she has moved from being a member of the Wagner SAAC to a co-chair of the Northeast Conference SAAC to a national SAAC rep. She is an active member of two committees at the national level: the Student-Athlete Experience Committee and the Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct Committee.

She noted the importance of serving these committees not only because she genuinely enjoys it, but because she hopes to work in college athletics after graduation. 

“Having a voice for the entire student body of athletes, both at the grass roots level and on a national platform is an incredible feeling.  I’m very blessed that I get to represent my school and my conference.” 

It is apparent that Vedika takes great pride in her conference as she praised Commissioner Noreen Morris for the work she has done for the schools, for the athletes and for women.

During her research for a project she is working on, Vedika interviewed Morris and relished in the fact that more women are taking on leadership roles in college athletics. 

“There is a large group of women with diverse backgrounds becoming commissioners.  I don’t know, maybe we have the ability to bring people together.  Women tend to be more empathetic and have a great sense of knowing what ADs and programs need.  Commissioner Morris is definitely someone I look up to.  The NEC may be small, but she is very well respected and people listen when she talks.  That is inspiring, not just for athletes, but for women as a whole.”

Our conversation together strengthened my idea that Vedika Anand may very well be a Conference Commissioner one day. 

On the national level, Anand’s role is much more intense than at the institutional/conference level. 

“I spend most of my time dedicated to my duties with the NCAA.  I have my D1 ticker on my phone at all times so I can always be up to date with what’s going on in our division.  I’m an early bird.  I get up early, do my work and read some articles.  We are going into the legislative cycle soon, so I need to be prepared.”

Conference SAAC reps are involved with the NCAA legislative cycle.  Last year, over 50 proposals were submitted by the national SAAC group.  Anand takes this responsibility seriously and relies on Wagner’s Senior Women’s Administrator (SWA), Tatum Colitz for guidance.  Anand described Colitz as a mentor and a friend who is imperative in helping Vedika decipher some of the rules and verbiage she still may be unfamiliar with. 

“Tatum [Colitz] is my resource.  Whenever I have a question, we pull out the NCAA manual, aka ‘The Bible’ and Tatum knows it all by heart.  Overall, we’re lucky at Wagner and at the NEC to have a close knit relationship with women who we can turn to.”

What was your biggest lesson as a member of SAAC? 

“The most important thing is that we be respectful of everyone’s opinions.  It is important that no one matter what level, we maintain the equality and fairness to all student-athletes.  At the national level, we are 32 people who are so invested in wanting to help each other that we sometimes forget what conference everyone is from.  We know that we all have a voice; even if something doesn’t affect us or our school specifically, we all get the chance to give our opinion.  It’s about the experience of being in different conferences that makes it all so special. At the Wagner level, people here want to help you.  Our administrators here want to make the student-athlete experience the best they can.  Wagner has been a great source of support.  I am blessed to have had this experience.”

Why are you proud to be a student athlete?

“Being a student athlete means you are part of something bigger than you.  Sometimes the NCAA feels so far out of reach.  Being a part of SAAC has allowed me to meet so many people, learn from a diverse group of individuals, and have an incredible student-athlete experience.  College athletics has given me a structure and a discipline that I will take into my work and my life.”

Currently, the NEC SAAC is in the midst of a year-long mental health awareness campaign. Initially started at Sacred Heart University, it has been adopted as a conference-wide initiative spearheaded by SAAC . 

This year, Wagner, which will hold Mental Health awareness week from October 27 through November 2, will be hosting a Dancing with the Stars-like competition that pairs a member of the theater program with an athlete. The College will also host the ‘green games’ as well as wear green ribbons for support.

“We wanted to bridge the divide between performing arts and sports, and this seemed like a fun way to do it. It was important for us to take on this initiative to show that there shouldn’t be a taboo about mental health.  We want to get people talking about it.”

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