Winter 2020 Issue

Home Court Advantage

William & Mary Athletics Boldly Pursuing Excellence

By Leslie McCullough M.B.A. ’17

At William & Mary, creativity, aspiration, learning and commitment aren’t limited to the classroom. Every day, hard work leads to rewarding accomplishments all over campus, including on the athletics field. Now those achievements will be guided by a bold new vision.

William & Mary Athletics unveiled its ambitious new strategic plan ‘Tribe 2025’ in the fall, designed to elevate the quality of athletics to parallel the caliber of W&M academics. The goal is to outline a clear path forward that will enable all of William & Mary’s sports programs to achieve a new level of excellence while helping to raise the university’s national prominence.

“William & Mary is an institution that has exemplified excellence in every area and athletics is no exception,” says Director of Athletics Samantha K. Huge. “This plan serves as a roadmap as we continue to elevate athletics to match the levels of excellence William & Mary enjoys in the classroom.”

Representing a two-year collaborative process that included athletics staff, coaches and student-athletes, as well as faculty, alumni, community members and university leadership, the plan focuses on inspiring the entire athletics community to boldly pursue excellence in everything they do.

“One of the key phrases that William & Mary Athletics encompasses as a whole is One Tribe One Family, and I can definitely see that both on and off the field as a student-athlete here,” says W&M lacrosse player Sophie Kopec ’21, a chemistry major. “To me, boldly pursuing excellence means being ready in all aspects in your life, doing whatever it takes to succeed and succeed well because you know that you can.”

Lead by Example: (left) W&M soccer senior Sarah Segan was a two-season captain and named 3rd team all CAA this year. (right) W&M football senior cornerback Corey Parker garnered CAA all-league distinction as a specialist this year. Photo Credit: Alfred Herczeg

The Path Forward

The Tribe 2025 plan lays out six strategic goals for the next five years that include a focus on academic excellence, uncompromising ethics, fulfilling student-athlete experiences, competitive success, excellent facilities and financial stability.

“What I like about this plan is that it has the clearcut goals that will help to get everyone on the same page and bring that fresh excitement that is necessary to make changes,” says Autumn Brenner ’20, a chemistry major and captain of the volleyball team. “I like that all the goals are centered around serving the student-athlete because that’s what’s important here.”

Some of the plan’s objectives include maintaining the highest student-athlete graduation rate in the NCAA, improving student-athlete support, developing a nationally-recognized sports performance analytics program, meeting high standards for gender equity, revitalizing sports facilities and expanding philanthropic support. Tony Belt is one of many newly hired staff to help propel athletics toward its vision.

“We are not here chasing GPAs,” says Belt, director of student-athlete services. “We are here to help each student-athlete challenge themselves to be the best they can be and provide them with the resources they need to be successful.”

Strides are also being made toward developing a nationally recognized sports performance analytics program. A new cross-campus partnership with the Department of Computer Science and the Raymond A. Mason School of Business uses modeling and data science to analyze athletic performance and reduce injury. A recently added fulltime sports psychologist and chief medical officer will help maintain student-athlete health and wellness as well.

William & Mary football quarterback Shon Mitchell ’21 is excited about the plan’s focus on revitalizing sports facilities and expanding philanthropic support. Among its goals, athletics aims to revitalize Kaplan Arena and add a new sports performance center to enhance practice and training, strength and conditioning and sports medicine. Increasing scholarships support is also an important plan priority.

“My scholarship has allowed me to play football at a very high level and have access to great coaching along with great academics,” says Mitchell, a kinesiology major. “Knowing the kind of support system we have here, we have the means to reach the goals this strategic plan is trying to accomplish, we just need to get the ball rolling.”

Reaching for Success

Continuing to build strong community connection and support — with William & Mary alumni, fans and friends — will be the key to the strategic plan’s success.

“The support we get from the community here is second to none,” says Mitchell. “You go to most schools and a lot of the athletics are supported by students. We’re also supported by our alumni and that’s something special to me and a lot of other athletes. It makes us feel like we have people who care for us and support us and that’s ultimately what gives us the extra push to go out there and win games.”

Building this enthusiasm will be important to achieve the plan’s concrete steps outlined for W&M Athletics to attract, recruit, develop and retain high-performing student-athletes, coaches, trainers and other professionals who demonstrate the ability and potential to win championships. The coaching staff also stresses the significance of focusing on this shared goal.

“It is really important to have the support of our community and of the campus,” says Women’s Basketball Coach Ed Swanson. “We want to be an athletics department that everyone is proud of so that William & Mary is acknowledged for the excellent university it is across the board.”