A Surge in Sports at DelVal
Mar 30, 2011
The DelVal sports scene was always bright and healthy, but something happened recently and bright and healthy has become bold, brash and deep.
By Ed Kracz
It used to be easy to sum up the athletic program at Delaware Valley College.
“It was always wrestling and the rest,” said Matt Levy, who is certainly qualified to make such a statement. He has been the school's sports information director for the past 19 years and recently added assistant athletic director to his duties.
All that has changed, as the 16 other programs now regularly find their way into the sports spotlight.
Wrestling still crowns multiple All-Americans each year and keeps stacking winning record upon winning record, first under longtime and now legendary coach Robert Marshall and, for the past nine years, under Brandon Totten.
But King Wrestling has had to share its throne, first with football, now with men's basketball, which played in its first Division III NCAA tournament game on March 4 after earning an automatic bid into the field of 61 teams by winning the Middle Atlantic Conference Freedom Division championship.
Women's basketball, women's soccer, field hockey and a cross country/track and field program led by multi-talented runner Caitlin Dorgan have, at various times the past few years, barged into the kingdom, too.
And that's just fine by everyone involved.
“It's good to see us all have success,” said football coach Jim Clements. “I hope it continues and some other sports get on board and we can dominate the whole conference.”
Most of all, the surge can be summed up in one word: coaches.
“We have some of the best staffs around,” said Levy. “They're hard working, aggressive and they're always looking to improve their team and the desire to win.”
The coaches aren't bringing in just athletes, either. In many cases, they are getting students who happen to be athletes.
For three straight years, DelVal has had one of its athletes named Scholar Athlete of the Year in a particular sport by the MAC.
In 2008, it was Ralph Stambaugh in football. Two years ago it was Bethany Pavlik in field hockey, and last year field hockey did it again when Katy Provenzale was named Scholar Athlete of the Year.
The word student-athlete has taken on true meaning at DelVal when you consider that the college had 60 student-athletes named to the MAC All-Academic team two years ago, the most in school history. There were 53 named to the same team last year.
Bringing in athletes who are capable of cutting it in the classroom is one reason Clements said the football team has excelled since 2003, after decades of losing.
“The key to our program is we win with seniors and we have done a great job retaining our kids, so the freshmen become sophomores, the sophomores juniors and the juniors seniors,” said Clements. “If we can retain them, we can be more successful, so the first thing we identify is academics, kids who are serious on and off the field.”
Finding the athletes, otherwise known as recruiting, is something that has served the men's basketball team well under third-year coach Casey Stitzel, who not only helped guide the Aggies to their first trip to the Division III NCAA Tournament, but also won a school-record 17 games this season.
“The talent level needed to increase,” said Stitzel. “That was my goal since day one. When you're not successful, you could have Bobby Knight as your head coach, but if there's no talent on your team, you won't win basketball games. The talent had to get better.”
Increasing the talent level is what has worked for the women's program, allowing coach Laura Hogan to make the conference playoffs seven times in the past 11 years and the field hockey team, under Carol Di Girolamo, to reach the conference semifinals the past two seasons.
Of course, if recruiting were easy then DelVal would have been at the top of its athletic game much sooner.
There are still certain obstacles, the biggest of which may be the fact that Division III schools are not allowed to offer athletic scholarships.
“That means you have to outwork people,” said Stitzel. “There are so many Division III schools just in this area alone that you really have to shine above the rest. Like everything in this world, to do that you have to sell yourself and you have to outwork people.”
Said Clements: “When you recruit at DelVal, you have to know who you are recruiting. Some kids want bells and whistles. We recruit a kid who is interested in winning, interested in coming at a high level and competing day in and day out in practice, guys who are hungry, guys who want to win.”
In addition to selling themselves as quality individuals passionate about the sport they coach, coaches say they also highlight with recruits the college's expanding menu of majors.
Graduate programs have expanded and new majors have been added in the past decade, including sports management. The new selections are not to be outdone by the unique majors the college has offered forever.
Dorgan, for example, came to DelVal because she wanted to study animal behavior and run, too.
“Not many schools had both, they had either one or the other,” said Dorgan.
Choosing Delaware Valley proved to be a winning combination of academics and athletics for Dorgan. Now a senior, she is on track to graduate in May and, this past fall, she became the first cross country runner from DelVal to win the MAC championship. At the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships she placed 28th, and she became the first runner in DelVal history to earn All-America honors.
“It's been awesome,” Dorgan said of her experiences at the college.
“In terms of agriculture, you look at DelVal or Penn State,” said Levy. “Well, if you're an athlete, you know which one of those schools you're more slotted for. Sometimes I think what helps us is if someone is interested in what our niche is, with some unique majors, sometimes you can get some outstanding student-athletes that way.”
Something that may get overlooked in the recruiting process, but something the coaches are well aware of, is the selling to recruits of the school's location, in Doylestown, a suburb of Philadelphia. While not in the city, the city can be reached easily enough with SEPTA’s Lansdale/Doylestown line that goes in and out of Philly throughout the day and night and has a stop right on the school's campus.
“Doylestown is the best college town, the best area in our conference,” said Clements. “It's the safest, you can get to the city but you're not in the city. Bucks County is beautiful. It's a great recruiting tool because it's a diamond in the rough.”
Even Stitzel, who went to and graduated from Widener, didn't know much about this jewel of a town, and he grew up in Quakertown, just a 20-minute drive from Doylestown.
“The more I learned about DelVal, the more majors they are offering like sports management, education, criminal justice – things that weren't offered when I was recruited here in high school in 2000 – and the more I learned about the campus, I didn't realize how nice it was, and how nice Doylestown is,” he said. “Once I started noticing all the things the school has to offer, wow, I thought, if I could sell myself, we might really have something here.”
What Delaware Valley has now, thanks to the surging athletic program, is an energized student body.
Dorgan, for one, has seen the affects more positive results on the playing fields and courts has had on her classmates.
“People are getting more involved with the sports here because they are getting better,” she said. “My freshmen year, the basketball team has skyrocketed in improvement and I'm seeing more people in the stands. Freshman year, it was nothing like it is now.”
For the MAC men's basketball final on Feb. 26, there were an estimated 1,000 fans in attendance, and a campus-wide email went out imploring students to wear black and turn Work Gymnasium into a “blackout.”
“I've never seen anything like that gym on (Feb. 26),” said Levy. “There were students everywhere.”
Not only are students becoming fans, but so, too, are community members, something Levy hasn't been able to help but notice since his wardrobe consists of all-things DelVal. Just about every stitch of clothing he owns has the school's name on it somewhere.
“I've been out just shopping with my kids and people will see me and say what a great football season you had, or they'll ask if I go to DelVal or if I work at DelVal then they'll say what a great football team we have,” he said. “There has just been more recognition of DelVal because of our sports.”