A Conversation with Patricia Nicol

by Matt Case / Beacon Staff and Matt Couture / Beacon Staff • February 1, 2017

Emerson athletic director Patricia Nicol said the department is working on finding home tennis courts and primary assistant coaches.
Emerson athletic director Patricia Nicol said the department is working on finding home tennis courts and primary assistant coaches.

Since her arrival at Emerson in 2014, Emerson athletic director Patricia Nicol has repeated a similar refrain: it would take three to five years to begin to see Emerson’s varsity programs become competitive in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference. In the 2016 fall season, Nicol oversaw the women’s soccer team’s first conference playoff appearance, while the men’s soccer team secured its first-ever NEWMAC victory.

Fall Recap: Women’s soccer reaches NEWMAC stage

Nicol said she generally hopes to see at least one program take a step forward in each sports season (fall, winter, spring). In the fall, the women’s soccer team fit that bill. David Suvak’s group reached the NEWMAC postseason tournament for the first time, bowing out after a 1-0 loss to Springfield in the quarterfinals. 

The single Springfield goal came on an early penalty kick. Nicol said the Lions’ effort was the finest she had seen since being hired as athletic director in March of 2014.

“We didn’t feel any intimidation by the opposing team,” Nicol said. “It was just a different feel. Even though we lost 1-0, it was, to me, the biggest step I’ve seen any team take.”

The women’s soccer team won the 2015 ECAC tournament, designed for teams with records above .500 that do not secure a playoff berth. Emerson was originally slotted as the seventh seed. A ring ceremony in the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym followed to recognize the victory. 

Nicol said women’s soccer did not return to the ECAC tournament this season because the team has reached a new level of competitiveness. She said that even if the program fails to qualify for the NEWMAC playoffs in 2017, it will not return to the ECAC championship.

“With women’s soccer last year, we felt that to provide a postseason opportunity for our students is another step in their progression, that they need to learn how to compete in postseason play,” Nicol said. “We decided not to go this year because now our goal and our objective is to compete in the NEWMACs, and that’s our standard now.”

The Lions’ women’s volleyball team hosted the first round of the ECAC tournament in November, easily defeating Morrisville State College to advance to quarterfinal play. The team eventually lost to another top regional seed—Swarthmore College—in the finals, held in Pennsylvania.

Nicol said the women’s volleyball team will be expected to follow a path similar to the women’s soccer program and make its NEWMAC tournament debut in 2017.

The fall also brought positive results for Emerson’s cross-country team— Nicol and said its finish at this year’s conference meet was the highest ever for both the men’s and women’s runners.

Searching for courts and future stars

After spending significant time on rebranding in her first two years with the college, including the introduction of the new Lions logo, Nicol said she has two new initiatives on the docket: securing outdoor tennis courts and hiring assistant coaches to bolster recruiting.

Nicol said the search for courts coincides with the NEWMAC’s decision to move the women’s tennis season into the spring, effective next year. The change means that both Emerson tennis programs will be running concurrently. Nicol said she supports the change, but that it brings renewed challenges—outdoor courts that meet NEWMAC specifications are hard to come by.

“We do okay finding indoor courts for practice,” Nicol said. “It’s not ideal because [the team has] to travel, but we do it. It’s the outdoor courts for competition—many times we have to use our opponents’ outdoor courts for our home match.”

Nicol said her other major goal is to add a primary assistant coach to each team’s staff, whose responsibilities would largely concern helping head coaches recruit.

“Recruiting is the cornerstone; it’s the foundation of what we do in this business,” Nicol said. “The coaches need help—they can’t be in two places at the same time.”

There is one sacrifice Nicol said she won’t make to recruit top-notch athletes: looking the other way on academic performance. She said the cumulative GPA for fall teams was a 3.43.

“We’re going to recruit good citizens who are good students and who happen to be good athletes,” Nicol said. “I’ve said this 100 times: Academic success and athletic success does not have to be mutually exclusive.”