Athletics Director Pat Nicol is proud of the legacy she helped build during her nearly nine years at Emerson: She reinvigorated the sports culture on campus and built camaraderie among teams.
“My goal was to change the perception and culture of Emerson athletics. I wanted to give the department and student-athletes an identity,” said Nicol, who retired in February.
When she began in May 2014, studentathletes were not always proud to wear the Emerson uniform. Some were even told they didn’t belong at the College. At the time, new to the more competitive NEWMAC (New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference), the Lions often sat at the bottom of the standings.
“Emerson was the only NEWMAC school where athletics was not viewed as important. That’s the feeling I got as a freshman,” said Jill Gearin ’18, who played softball for the Lions and was an assistant coach for one season after graduating. “I could tell people cared by the end of my collegiate career.”
[Pat’s] leadership really allowed the Athletics Department to grow and be something that people cared about and were proud of at Emerson,” added Gearin, who is now the director of broadcasting and media relations
manager for the Visalia Rawhide minor league baseball team.
As AD, Nicol fostered relationships with different departments across campus, stressing the importance of Athletics Department staff being part of the overall Emerson community, said William Gould, Women’s Basketball head coach. She asked coaches to get more involved with the Emerson community by volunteering for events like Midnight Breakfast; and, in recent years, staff volunteered at the COVID testing center.
“I think the best way I can describe [Pat’s leadership] is with two [words]: stabilizing and professionalism,” he said. “She sat down with every coach and asked, ‘What do you need to be successful?’”
In recognition of this holistic role within the College community, Nicol’s title needed to be amended to include associate dean for campus life, along with director of athletics, explained Jim Hoppe, vice president and
dean for campus life. “She definitely helped the department come into its own,” he said.
A former cross-country runner at the University of Rhode Island, who later was inducted into the URI Athletics Hall of Fame, Nicol worked in college athletics for 42 years, 35 of which were as an administrator.
She began her career as a track and field coach at Division I West Virginia University, took time off from coaching to raise her children, and then taught physical education before returning to collegiate athletics
in 1990, as the associate director of athletics for Providence College (DII).
Having worked at D-I and D-II schools, Nicol said she wanted to come to Emerson, a D-III school, in part because of its philosophy of balancing athletics with academics.
More Competition, More Success
The move to the NEWMAC in 2013 brought Emerson into a conference that is stronger in both athletics and academics, playing alongside schools such as MIT, Babson, WPI, and Wellesley.
“Her expertise in giving all 243 studentathletes [at Emerson] an all-around academic and athletic experience that is second to none stands out for everyone to see,” said Stan Nance, senior associate director of athletics for external affairs, who is now serving as interim associate dean for campus life and director of athletics. “Well done is better than well said.”
“[Pat] has empowered our student-athletes and their respective programs to compete at the highest level,” said Jacob DiTore ’19, who played on the Men’s Volleyball team as a student and later became an assistant coach for the team. “She has left Emerson Athletics in a better place than where it was when she first entered
our pride, and for that I can’t thank her enough,” said DiTore, who also is the associate director for annual giving at Emerson. “Once a Lion, always a Lion.”
And Lion prides continue to claw their way to higher peaks each year. The majority of the program’s teams have qualified for NEWMAC postseason tournaments. The Men’s Basketball team has been to the NCAA Division III tournament twice.
This past fall, the Women’s Soccer team was ranked nationally, a first for any Emerson team. And both the Women’s and Men’s Soccer teams advanced to the NEWMAC championship (with the women winning and advancing to the NCAA Division III tournament).
But athletic achievement is only part of the recipe.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve done academically. Our Women’s Basketball team had the highest GPA in the entire country, including Divisions I, II, and III. That’s more than 1,000 institutions,” said Nicol. “I think we’ve built a culture of holistic success, academically, athletically, and where we sit within the College.”
That culture, that legacy, will live on.
“I feel the trajectory continuing so that we are not only competitive within the conference level, but competitive at the national level,” said Nicol. “I believe the culture has allowed us to continue in that direction. I believe in
the rest of our staff. We don’t want to just win; we expect to win. That’s where I wanted us to go.”