As Emerson’s director of athletics Pat Nicol approaches retirement, she leaves a legacy of a reinvigorated culture of sports and camaraderie amongst every Lion team, say colleagues and students.
Nicol has led the department since May 2014, and will be hanging up her Emerson jersey in February, in part to spend more time with her grandchildren.
She said she is proud of the department she’s leaving behind.
“The programs are in a good place to pass the torch to the next person to keep the momentum going,” said Nicol. “What I’m most proud of is [that] our student-athletes, coaches, and staff, are woven into the fabric of Emerson.”
When she first arrived at Emerson, students were not always proud to wear the Emerson uniform, and some student-athletes were told they didn’t belong at Emerson, said Nicol. In addition, at the time of her hire, Emerson was new to the more competitive NEWMAC conference, and the Lions often sat at the bottom of the standings.
“Pat’s been great. I think the best way I can describe it is with two things: stabilizing and professionalism,” said William Gould, women’s basketball head coach, who was coaching at Emerson prior to Nicol’s arrival. “She sat down with every coach and asked, ‘What do you need to be successful?’”
Nicol fostered relationships with different departments across the campus, stressing the importance of Athletics Department staff being part of the overall Emerson community, Gould said. 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.
Vice President & Dean for Campus Life Jim Hoppe said Nicol’s title needed to be amended to include Associate Dean for Campus Life, along with Director of Athletics.
“It was recognizing the role she plays, not just with the Athletics Department,” said Hoppe. “She definitely helped the department come into its own.”
“She has built bridges across campus and those are important connections because, we as coaches, and as athletic staff, we work with admissions, housing, academic advising, counseling, and health services, and many offices across the campus,” said David Suvak, women’s soccer head coach for 13 years (and four years as the men’s coach before that). “Those are all important for current athletes, as well as future athletes. I think she has done a really nice job of continuing to build those connections.”
The move to the NEWMAC brought Emerson into a conference that is stronger in athletics and academics, playing alongside schools such as MIT, and Babson, Smith, and Wellesley colleges.
“[The NEWMAC] was very difficult to be successful from the outset,” said Nicol. “It took some time, but now our students are very proud to wear an Emerson logo across their chest walking down Boylston Street. I feel we have a respected place within the college community, and our athletes are proud to be student-athletes here.”
Jacob DiTore ’19 has had the unique experience of playing on the men’s volleyball team, is now an assistant coach for the men’s volleyball team, and is also a staff member as the associate director for annual giving.
“[Pat] has empowered our student-athletes and their respective programs to compete at the highest level,” said DiTore. “Her leadership in our community and presence on the sidelines will be greatly missed. 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. Once a Lion, always a Lion.”
And Lion prides continue to claw its way to higher peaks than ever before. The majority of the program’s team have qualified for NEWMAC postseason tournaments. The men’s basketball team has been to the NCAA Division III tournament twice.
This Fall semester, 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).
“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 a holistic success, academically, athletically, and where we sit within the college.”
Nicol learned what makes athletics departments successful starting when she was a cross-country runner at the University of Rhode Island (she eventually was inducted into their Athletics Hall of Fame). She has worked in college athletics for 42 years, with 35 of those at the college administration level.
Nicol started as a track and field coach at Division I West Virginia University, took time off from working to raise her children, taught physical education, and then had an opportunity to get back into college athletics in 1990, as the associate director of athletics for Providence College (DII).
Nicol felt that Divisions I and II prioritized the “athlete” part of student-athlete over the academics. More often, athletic directors start in Division III, then move to II, and I, but Nicol went in the opposite direction because she believes the philosophy of Division III allows for more of a balance.
“Her expertise in giving all 243 student-athletes 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. “Well done is better than well said.”