The Division Transition
Why four former Division I athletes decided to make a home as Division III coaches.
When we hear the term “Division I Athletics” we think of success. Many athletes trade their blood, sweat, and tears for a shot at a National Championship. In many ways, this is where professionals are born. Passion drives the competitiveness of this Division where only a select few are fortunate enough to compete. It is the ultimate goal for most athletes as they hope to exceed their own expectations.
But life as a Division I Athlete is a balancing act. With two-a-day practices, team lifts, multi-day traveling to games, and being a full-time student, off-days are non-existent. However, this type of extreme dedication is the minimum effort needed to be successful at such a high level of play.
And when that final whistle is blown, these athletes are rarely ready to step away from their sport. Many turn to the coaching world, hoping to inspire the next generation of athletes.
This story holds true for several of the coaches here at Saint Joseph’s College.
With the celebration of Division III Week every April, student-athletes are often asked about why they chose to attend their respective college. Among the many reasons is their team’s head coach, as no team would be complete without its coaching staff, a group of professionals with the power to shape their team’s success.
Four Saint Joseph’s head coaches, having all played their respective sport at the NCAA DI level- Adrian Dubois, Margaret Howe, Jenelle Harris, and Yamile Nolan- shared their insight as to why they chose Division III and what they appreciate most about DIII Athletics.
If you know anything about Adrian Dubois’s soccer career, you know that it’s hard to find a league he hasn’t played for.
Even after helping his team earn a National Ranking during his career at the University of New Hampshire, Dubois was not through playing. Throughout the next few years, Dubois went on to play professionally for several different clubs while earning two Major League Soccer tryouts along the way.
Dubois stated that his love for the game is what brought him to coaching. “Soccer makes me happy,” Dubois stated, “the life lessons that soccer taught me [are] invaluable.” And having witnessed the highest levels of coaching in the country, he knew he would be able to develop a strong coaching philosophy based on his mentors.
Although it was a head coaching opportunity that brought Dubois to Standish, Maine two years ago, it is the philosophy of Division III that drives his efforts as a member of the Athletics Staff.
The concept of Division III is more academically based than the other Divisions. With no athletic scholarships available, athletes must be driven by the “Division III Mentality,” where self-motivation during the off-days leads to success throughout the season. Although this means that coaches must take a step back from their teams when the season ends, an aspect of DIII that gives student-athletes the opportunity to focus on their academics.
And for Coach Dubois, the more relaxed nature of Division III allows him more time to focus on his philosophy. With less training during the off-season, Dubois can spend that time preparing his athletes, not only for the next season, but for the game of life.
For first-year swim coach, Margaret Howe, Division III offered her a chance to build her own program from the ground up, an opportunity that she couldn’t pass up.
The former Boston College distance swimmer has used her experience as an NCAA DI athlete to build a coaching style aimed at ultimate athlete growth. Howe has incorporated a new level of discipline, commitment to hard work, and a goal-oriented thought process to her platform to shape her swimmers into better athletes.
And this platform has already proven successful.
In her first season as coach, Howe lead her women’s team to a second-place finish at the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Championships, demolishing the program’s point record by 280 points.
On the men’s side, Junior Ben Johnson became the first swimmer in Saint Joe’s history to qualify for the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championships.
But Coach Howe understands that Division III Schools attract the athletes who make their college choice based on their academic and athletic “fit.” So she cannot forget the most important element of her platform: fun.
“Swimming is really just hitting a wall every 20 seconds, so SOMETHING has to get athletes back to the pool every day.”
But with a record-breaking season already under her belt, that “something” bringing athletes back to the pools each day is Howe’s quest for success.
Two towns over in Gray, Maine, Head Women’s Soccer Coach Jenelle Harris has another team that relies on her: her family.
Originally from Texas, Harris played for Centenary College (which as since transitioned to a DIII school) where she was a four-year contributor. But, like Dubois and Howe, she wasn’t ready to let go of her sport after her senior year.
After moving to Maine with her husband, Harris became involved in a nearby Olympic Developmental Program working with former SJC Women’s Soccer Coach, Michael Bolanz. Impressed with her abilities, Bolanz brought her aboard his coaching staff, where Harris served as an assistant coach for six seasons before replacing Bolanz as head coach in 2013.
Coaching at the Division III level has given Harris not only the opportunity to develop her coaching skills, but also to develop her family.
“Now that I have kids, it’s the best fit,” Harris stated. For she realizes it would be impossible to balance a family on top of the time commitment that is required of coaches at the Division I and II level.
And her family has stayed at her side throughout her career. You can usually find her oldest child cheering her mom on at home games, often sporting a Coach Harris t-shirt.
When asked if she would like to test the waters coaching at a higher NCAA Level, Harris simply responded: “Maybe eventually. But when the kids are older.”
If you ask Yamile Nolan to sum up her experience as a Division I volleyball player, she will give you a simple answer: “It’s HARD!”
After a two-year stint at El Camino Community College, Nolan was offered a full scholarship to compete at the University of California- Santa Barbara.
But a coaching career was not something that she had planned. Her beach volleyball league director, then the Monks’ head coach, offered her an assistant coaching position with him at Saint Joseph’s. After much deliberation, Nolan took the job and was awarded the head coach position after he resigned. She has been with the Monks for seven years now.
“Now I can’t imagine my life without coaching,” Nolan stated.
Although Nolan admits to missing the competitive fire of the Division I program, this trait is not lacking in her team at Saint Joe’s. The relaxed feel of the Division tends to yield more genuine players who compete for the love of the game, not for the recognition. Nolan recalls that often times players at the Division I level have more of an entitlement attitude, which she has not seen at the Division III level.
“I love working with intense, competitive players,” she states of her Saint Joe’s team, “and I’m not sure I would do well coaching a team of prima donnas!”
According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Division III is the largest division of the NCAA with approximately 200,000 student-athletes participating.
It’s in a league of its own. With vast opportunities that expand well beyond athletics, colleges like Saint Joe’s have been attracting athletes with a goal to succeed, not only on the playing field but in the classroom as well. Student-athletes in Division III tend to be much more well rounded, a trait that is beneficial for their future careers.
And this atmosphere is a huge drawing point to coaches who strive for the opportunity to build successful programs. In this environment, coaches can act not only as athletic guides but life mentors, with the power to use athletics to create more versatile young adults.
But we cannot doubt that the experience brought forth by former Division I athletes has had a huge impact on the programs here at Saint Joe’s. For the blood, sweat, and tears that were devoted at Division I programs years ago, have been exchanged for attitudes and philosophies that guide our student-athletes towards greatness after graduation.
And we can only thank them for helping to make this transition an easy one.