Friday, December 19, 2014

KSU's Vaughn Williams: Perspectives on Service, Success and More

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Spend time with Kennesaw State University Director of Athletics Vaughn Williams and you quickly discover how key the role of servant leadership is to Williams’ mission for all involved with KSU Athletics.



Williams’ most recent opportunity for such leadership comes in his selection to the inaugural NCAA Division I Council that is set to convene for the first time on January 15, 2015, during the opening day of the NCAA Convention in Washington, D.C.



Williams will represent the Atlantic Sun Conference on the Council which is charged with conducting the day-to-day business of NCAA Division I Athletics. Appointed at the recommendation of a Division I Board of Directors’ subcommittee, the Council replaces the current Legislative and Leadership councils.



The Council consists of a diverse group of 40 individuals comprised of athletics directors (AD), conference office delegates, faculty athletic representatives (FAR), senior woman administrators (SWA) and two student-athletes. The group’s first order of business will be to design the subgroups that will assist in developing legislation, running championships and performing other necessary functions within the operations of Division I Athletics.



Williams’s selection is the latest news in what has been a big year for Kennesaw State University Athletics. KSU reached new heights particularly in during 2014 as three teams (baseball, men’s indoor track and field and men’s outdoor track and field) captured Atlantic Sun Conference titles. The baseball team’s championship was the first-ever at the Division I level and vaulted the Owls to the Tallahassee Regional title and a trip to the Super Regional in the program’s first NCAA Division I postseason appearance and the A-Sun’s second Super Regional appearance in conference history.

The postseason run by the baseball team, combined with the men’s golf program advancing to the NCAA Championships and junior Kaew Preamchuen earning women’s golf’s first-ever individual berth to an NCAA regional helped to bring well deserved national exposure to KSU and the A-Sun. That national exposure continued through the summer as two rising seniors on the men’s golf team, Jimmy Beck and Austin Vick competed in the U.S. Amateur Championship that was held at the Atlanta Athletic Club.

Kennesaw State student-athletes also excelled in the classroom as they combined to record a 3.07 cumulative grade-point average and 154 individuals earned A-Sun Conference all-academic honors.



Insider: What are you most proud of in your three years now at KSU?

Williams: I am most proud of our student-athletes’ response to all of the demands on them and how they go about handling their business. I can obviously point to their academics, as they are consistently reaching the 3.0 threshold. I can point to their growth in the community, and how they have really taken it upon themselves to understand what service is and how to become servant leaders. We continue to build on our hours in the community and we are really doing some good things and that, I believe, is very valuable to their experience. Also I can point to them buying into being representatives and taking full advantage of the experience as student-athletes at Kennesaw State.



We have been able to put a great team together here at KSU and the community has really gotten behind us. I think our coaches have done a great job. We have a great group of coaches and I am really excited about the future because it is through those coaches that we can impact lives. We also continue to have success in competition, which really makes it a lot of fun.



Adding women’s lacrosse and football to the arsenal has been tremendous, because you don’t get to do that every day. Being able to add those marquis programs is very important.



Insider: What are some obstacles that you and KSU Athletics have been able to overcome?

Williams: Really it has been about educating people in our internal campus community along with the external community as to what athletics is all about. It is about educating them as to where we fit on this campus, and where we fit in in regards to being a part of this great community in Cobb County/Northwest Georgia. We are always educating about that.



Obviously the football hurdle was huge. It was huge getting that approved. First it was also important for our students, because if our students didn’t support it then we would never have football. Then getting the Board of Regents to support it, followed by the partners that gave us financial support. I think that also speaks to this community. We had a certain timeline that we had to operate within and obviously that was a huge hurdle to overcome.



Insider: You began three years ago armed with a vision. Has that changed or adapted at all?

Williams: I think it hasn’t changed, but rather it has become a part of us. It is about being champions in the classroom, champions in the community and champions in competition. I do believe that as far as champions in the classroom, we have really begun to build that foundation. All of the coaches understand that is a part of reaching our potential and everyone involved understands how important it is to be at the 3.0 mark.



As far as champions in the community, it includes everything that we have done athletically which has helped in so many ways. It is not just about athletics, but the institution. We have really made it our business to go out and be in the community, get to know people and to spread the “Black and Gold Gospel” of KSU to the public.



Insider: How nice is it to have institutional administration that totally buys into your philosophy?

Williams: The quality of leadership that we have at Kennesaw State definitely impacts my job. We can’t do the things that we have done for the last three and half years without the student support and without the support of our president and our board of trustees. Dr. Papp has been monumental in his leadership in helping and assisting us get things done in the right manner, which is what we want to do. I would say that it is his leadership, his vision, and I carry out what he wants me to do and how athletics will fit in to the master plan of how KSU reaches excellence.



Insider: What are your expectations of and what do you bring to this newly created NCAA Division I Council?

Williams: I go into this committee with obviously an open mind. I do think, I hope that I can bring my experience and background to contribute. From my time at Utah, Toledo, Boston College, Connecticut and now at Kennesaw State, I have seen Division I at many levels. I can bring that experience, that real-life understanding of the issues and challenges that those campuses faced as we get ready to do what is best for Division I in its entirety. I have never been as excited to serve on a committee as I am now. This is a moment in our history in the NCAA and in Division I, a juncture in time that we will look back and see “how were these things developed?” As we move forward with all of the things that are happening with the Big 5, I do think I will be able to represent the A-Sun, mid-major conferences and other conferences in a very formal, just and educated way.



Insider: KSU played a role in a historic 2014 for the A-Sun, so talk about where you see the A-Sun right now.

Williams: The A-Sun has a lot of momentum in multiple areas, including in meeting our mission of Building Winners for Life. You see it in the classroom, in what we are doing in and for our communities and certainly on the playing field in multiple sports. You can talk about volleyball, soccer, basketball, golf, tennis, baseball and softball – you can talk about an array of sports in which the momentum is building. Our brand is in a good place right now, and I am looking forward to us continuing that momentum moving forward.



Insider: How goes the transition to life in the South?

Williams: This is an unbelievable community. I couldn’t have dreamed my situation up any better. I love the state of Georgia and this community in the Metro Atlanta area offers a very diverse cultural experience. This community has embraced my family, and me and we have embraced it, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else at this time. I work for a great university and a great president and KSU is a member of a great conference, many things are on the horizon, so the transition has been very easy. There have been many facets of my experience that have made me feel very fortunate to be here and I can’t wait to see what can be done as we move forward.



Insider: What is next?

Williams: We are excited about basketball right now and are looking forward to another successful spring season for KSU. We have a consolidation that is happening with another institution that should be finalized over the next month or so, and we will be a bigger and better institution. That is exciting for athletics because it offers another array of educational outlets and opportunities for student-athletes like computer science, architecture, engineering, and construction management. Full-fledged educational opportunities will be available in more disciplines and I can’t wait to see the day when we have student-athletes graduating from the school of engineering or architecture or the others that I mentioned. It opens up a whole new level of service with a student population of 6,000 additional students. As we continue to create a more robust program, that will lead to pride, energy and synergy among the students, alumni and the community. It is a great and rewarding experience that is continuously evolving for those who currently attend and who will attend in the future.  It is a great time to be at Kennesaw State.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Community Service Looks Good on the Hatters

Spend a little time with many student-athletes from Stetson University and you discover quickly the culture of community service and involvement that helps define the Hatters’ programs.

Take women’s lacrosse for instance. Senior Samantha Akl has participated in many projects and events with her team, from helping clean up a local beach to helping out at the Habitat for Humanity Thrift Store.

“It is amazing to represent Stetson women’s lacrosse at something that helps our community, because it gives us a chance to tell them who were are, what we do and why we are there,” said Akl. “Because we are a sport not known for its fan base, it is so much fun to get out and hopefully create new fans. We have had some ask us back and said to be sure next time to bring our sticks.”

Then there is women’s soccer, whose service ranges from volunteering and teaching in local churches to working with the humane society and participating in walks against domestic violence. One student-athlete, junior Jenna Premo, also spent two weeks as a missionary in Guyana, working to provide clothing and food to children and families.

“That was an incredible experience,” says Premo. “I was in the jungle for a week and then in a very poor city for another week. It really put into perspective the amount of things that we get as student-athletes. Plus, watching the kids play soccer and playing with them really reinforced how much I love the game.” 

Along with participating in a certain amount of hours of service with their teams, many Hatter student-athletes go above and beyond that time as well. Some will often discover needs and serve for their own personal satisfaction, while others share the intentions to serve on social media and are soon joined by a teammate or fellow student-athlete or two, at the very least.

“Being able to play a sport is great, and it is a privilege, but we have great fans and being able to show them that we are supporting the community in return is a big deal,” says Premo. “As student-athletes we have a unique opportunity to serve as models for athletics and the university, and that is important.”

A board member in Stetson’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), Akl understands and praises the advantages of student-athlete involvement in organizations such as SAAC.

“I was a transfer to Stetson, and so beginning to participate in different forms of community service made me feel like a part of the community,” she said. “I had always wanted to be a part of SAAC, even to the point of assuming a leadership role, and so once I decided to join I was ‘All In.’"

 Next up for Akl, Premo and Stetson’s SAAC is the Me Strong 5K, an event organized to help raise money for cancer research and to support families dealing with cancer. The Hatters’ SAAC will play major roles in the planning and execution of the event, in which student-athletes are encouraged to participate either by running or volunteering in some facet of the race. 

Last year’s event was held in honor of a local resident and a supporter of Stetson athletics who was in the third battle against cancer in her life.

 “As a student-athlete and a new member to SAAC, I am enjoying the time that we spend together, whether it is learning personal facets of personal development through our meetings or investing in our community,” said Premo. “Of course you always feel like your efforts can be increased a bit, but the level of desire among our student-athletes to do good and to get out there is high.” 

“The Me Strong 5K is the biggest and most exciting community service event that SAAC in particular participates in,” said Akl. “Along with the other community service projects that we participate in throughout the year, this event provides such a good influence on me and my teammates. Stetson is such a small school in a tight-knit community, and so the results of this type of service is very satisfying.”

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Volleyball Adds to Atlantic Sun's Historic Year in 2014

Earlier this week, Lipscomb and Jacksonville earned bids to the NCAA Volleyball Championship giving the Atlantic Sun multiple teams for the first time in conference history as the Bisons secured the A-Sun's first-ever at-large bid.

The ground-breaking accomplishment by A-Sun Volleyball only adds to the best year in league history as conference student-athletes are performing at a record level when it comes to postseason play.

Few other conferences can compete with the level of success A-Sun teams  & student-athletes have produced over the past 12 months. In fact, only the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC can claim the postseason success of the A-Sun during 2014.

This is only part of what the A-Sun has combined to accomplish since Jan. 2014;
- Posted a victory in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament
- Secured four postseason bids apiece in men's & women's basketball
- Had a team appear in NCAA Baseball Super Regional (Kennesaw State)
- Three softball teams earn victories in NCAA Regional play (Stetson, USC Upstate & Lipscomb)
- Landed four teams in NCAA Men's Golf Regional Tournaments
- Two teams in the 2014 NCAA Volleyball Championship

Out of the 32 NCAA Division I conferences, only the above mentioned four conferences match or exceed the previous six accomplishments since the start of the 2014 calendar.

In addition to the previously mentioned feats, A-Sun teams have achieved several other memorable moments this year;
- FGCU became first A-Sun team to host an NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament match
- North Florida's doubles team of Jack Findel-Hawkins and Norbert Nemcsek joined FGCU's Jordi Vives in winning a match in the NCAA Men's Tennis Championship
- Lipscomb's Gemikal Prude and Kennesaw State's Andre Dorsey both earned NCAA Indoor Track & Field All-America status; first time in A-Sun history with multiple All-Americans in same year.
- A conference-best three sand volleyball teams (Stetson, Jacksonville & North Florida) were represented at AVCA Championship.
- Highest-ever individual finish by a women's golfer at the NCAA Championship as Gabriella Wahl tied for 50th.
- Kennesaw State reached the NCAA Men's Golf Championship as the A-Sun has been represented at the last five national tournaments.

With 2014 nearing its conclusion, A-Sun teams can look back at the historic year that was and continue to build for the year to come in 2015. Before the New Year begins, Jacksonville and Lipscomb try to expand the historic year with runs of their own in the NCAA Tournament.

Monday, November 24, 2014

North Florida Making Community Service Consistently Meaningful



Last summer, University of North Florida Director of Athletic Communication Brian Morgan and former UNF men’s Golfer Joey Marino began discussing the impact of the Ospreys’ service to its Jacksonville, Fla., community.

What resulted was an understanding that while the Ospreys’ student-athletes enjoyed community service, they weren’t necessarily educated about the myriad of opportunities that were available to them.

“We have great student-athletes who want to be involved in community service, but we found that they didn’t have the outlets for that service,” said Morgan.

The discovery was one that prompted a regularly monthly initiative through which all of North Florida’s student-athletes have the opportunity to benefit others and themselves. This idea of regular monthly service was also presented to all of North Florida’s coaches prior to the beginning of the fall semester, and according to Morgan it was received with an overwhelming show of support.

“On the first Monday of every month an activity is now scheduled, and so the week prior we send an email to our coaches and also make sure to include the SAAC. Usually within an hour of the email going out, the signup list is full.”

That was the case in one of the Ospreys’ most special and recent activities, a visit to Wolfson Children’s Hospital. The UNF student-athletes toured several wings of the hospital visiting with patients of various ages ranging from five to those in their teens. The student-athletes don’t focus on the illnesses of the children they visit, but rather The North Florida Athletic Department has partnered with Wolfson's for student-athletes to visit several times during the 2014-15 academic year, the next of which is scheduled for the first Monday in February.

“Our student-athletes get excited about going to see the kids at the hospital” said Morgan. “The hospital has strict rules as to how many we can bring, so usually it ranges from six to 12. Also we can only bring certain things to give them, like the last time we took a plastic ball and had our student-athletes sign one for each of the kids.”

Matching the A-Sun’s mission of helping student-athletes strike the proper balance between student and athlete, North Florida’s new program of community service helps develop what Morgan calls the “whole person.”

“We do a good job at our institutions of developing the students in the classroom and the athletes in the competitive arenas, but this gives them the chance to grow even more,” Morgan said. “We are called to help them be a whole person, and to help them discover for themselves what it means to give back and how that impacts others.”

Projects have also included working at homeless shelters and participating in Habitat for Humanity, and a hopeful future initiative has eyes set of the local Ronald McDonald House that ministers to parents of seriously ill children.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dolphins Come Together At Right Time

Fort Myers, Fla. - When the defending A-Sun Volleyball Champions began practice for the 2014 season they had a new head coach and wondered how they would be able to duplicate last season's championship run.

Despite being voted No. 2 in the preseason poll by the coaches, the Dolphins squad needed to find itself and learn how to become a new team in 2014. Head Coach Julie Darty, who began her first season as head coach, said that "early on in the season we needed to learn how to play together and we focused on teaching the game to our kids every day."

Jacksonville struggled early on to find consistency as they started the season 2-4 and on defense Darty was looking to find a libero that could play the way she was looking for. A five-game winning streak in September was followed by a four-game losing streak in October as the Dolphins found themselves with a 1-4 record in conference play.

One of the mainstays from last season's success, Sammie Strausbaugh, was one of the players Darty could count on every night the Dolphins stepped on the court. Strausbaugh had 19 straight matches with 10 or more kills, and she also was a defensive standout leading the team in digs. She was voted A-Sun Player of the Year in the regular season and picked up Tournament MVP honors as well.

Through games played by November 19th, Strausbaugh was one of only a handful of players in the nation with 500 kills and 300 digs. With her defensive performance in the Championship, she now has over 400 digs to along with 550 total kills. Alongside her other players stepped up as the conference season progressed.

Emily Laskelle, an academic all-conference selection, and Kelly Koop, a transfer from North Florida, showed tremendous improvement over the course of the season to help out Strausbaugh. Darty also highlighted another player saying, "Jizzy Gesualdo became more consistent as the season went on, and she really figured out how to run the offense and stepped up in the second half of the season."

Coach Darty noted that the win against Northern Kentucky on November 7th really gave the team confidence and began a run of six wins in seven matches, leading to the team's second A-Sun Championship in a row. Sophomore libero Rachel Miller played with more confidence and consistency giving the Dolphins great play along the back row defensively.

After the final, Darty reflected on how far the team had come since September, "From our first match at Bethune I never thought we would be here. But we played our best volleyball in November and always trusted the process hitting our peak at the right moment."

That process has led the Dolphins back to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in program history. They will watch the selection show on November 30 at 8:30 p.m. on campus and look to continue this ride they are on.





Friday, November 21, 2014

New Head Coaches Reach A-Sun Championship

Fort Myers, Fla. - When the 2014 Atlantic Sun Volleyball Season began this fall, several new head coaches embarked on their first journey in the conference. For two of them the journey has led to the A-Sun Championship, while Northern Kentucky also makes its first appearance at this year's championship. 

NKU head coach Liz Hart has guided the team to two winning seasons since joining the A-Sun, and this year the Norse were rewarded with a spot in the A-Sun Championship. Unfortunately Coach Hart is not able to join her squad in Fort Myers, Fla as she is expecting to deliver a baby any day now. Assistant Coach Randi Raff guided the Norse to their first A-Sun Championship victory on Thursday. The team now prepares for a showdown with perennial league power Lipscomb in the Semifinals today.
Defending Champions Jacksonville are back in the championship with a new head coach in Julie Darty. A former player in the A-Sun, Darty took over the squad and has led them to the No. 3 seed in this year's Championship. The Dolphins will try to become the fifth team in A-Sun history to win back-to-back titles, first since Lipscomb did it in 2010-11. They took down cross-town rivals North Florida in the first round on Thursday. Now the Dolphins face a tough test against the A-Sun Championship hosts FGCU. 
The Eagles also feature a new head coach in Matt Botsford, who guided them to the No. 2 seed in his first year in the A-Sun. He coached a total of five All-Conference selections this season after taking over a squad with several seniors and upper classmen. The Eagles have bought into their new coaches philosophy and went 19-10 overall, including 11-3 in conference play. Being the two-seed represents the second highest seed for FGCU in the A-Sun Championship, they were No. 1 back in the 2012 Championship. 
The A-Sun Championship Semifinals begin today at 5 p.m. All of this year's Volleyball Championship can be seen live on ESPN3. The winners will advance to tomorrow's Championship Final which is set for 3 p.m. also live on ESPN3.  

Friday, November 14, 2014

Upper Classmen Shining In A-Sun Men's Soccer

MACON, Ga. - The journey of a student-athlete can take many turns as you try to manage the balance of academics and athletics. Often you don't find the right balance until your final season. This year the A-Sun has seen many upper classmen step up for their teams and lead them to new heights.

In a league where teams shared the regular-season title and all teams remained alive for a Championship spot until the final whistle, coaches will lean on experience and seniors to guide their squads through the ups and downs. As teams face different obstacles throughout the season, its the seniors and juniors that keep a team on the path to the ultimate goal of winning a championship.

The top-seeded Lipscomb Bisons are led by senior captain Luke Gearin. Gearin, the 2014 Defender of the Year, has played and started along side fellow senior Robbie Johnson for a majority of the past three seasons. This year Gearin showed his leadership on both sides of the ball, scoring eight goals, many of them on set pieces.

Northern Kentucky is leaning on its senior class more than ever as the Norse find themselves in unfamiliar territory, the A-Sun Championship semifinals. Cian McDonald and fellow Irish senior Ian O'Reilly are two  of seven seniors who committed to NKU when the Norse were still in Division-II. As the Norse moved up and entered the transition period, it was this senior class that helped guide the team to new heights. It was only fitting that McDonald and O'Reilly combined for the game-winner in the Norse' first ever A-Sun Championship match.

The quality of play has also improved tremendously due to players staying and growing with their teams. North Florida Head Coach Derek Marinatos believes the quality of upperclassmen is helping the conference strength, "I attribute a lot of the parity to the talent that returned to the league, especially among the top four teams. For example a team like Stetson had so much to overcome, and the seniors have taken them to the next level."

FGCU continues to lean on the experienced players on its squad, including Henry Penagos. The redshirt-senior, is tied for the team league in goals (4) and points (8), He has scored some crucial game-winners this year to help give the Eagles a share of their fifth-straight A-Sun regular season title, a new conference record. 

This year's group of upperclassmen  has performed well on and off the field. FGCU's and North Florida's seniors now get the chance to cap off this season with a championship on Sunday.