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A Different Shade of Blue

When one school closes, another door opens

By Kerri Handras as told to Amy Wimmer Schwarb

We had heard for a couple of years that Dowling might close. But on the athletics side, we never really felt those fears. We were funded well. The programs were very successful. We were kind of our own little entity, and we were able to make things work on our end. Athletics never suffered.

Then, the week after graduation last year, rumors started circulating. Me, the players, everyone — we were like, is this really happening? The staff at Dowling — I’d been coaching with them for 12 years — were all devastated. It’s almost like your co-workers are teammates, as well. You know those you can lean on, those you can talk to — an ear to speak to or a shoulder to lean on. They go through all the same things as you. I had a lot of friendships.

We all went down with the ship. Dowling shut the doors May 31.

The next day, I was in a meeting with the New York Institute of Technology athletics director, who had already spoken to the president. They had been in talks for a while about adding women’s lacrosse. They just weren’t sure — it was something that just never came to fruition. So when I met with the AD the day after Dowling closed, it was just an opportune time for them to get a coach and possibly a team to come over. He had a proposal and offered me the job.

Of course, I thought immediately of my student-athletes, especially the nine seniors on my team at Dowling. I had to ask, what made sense for them? I wanted them to graduate on time, and who’s going to accept all the credits they had earned?

They had the camaraderie. They had the chemistry. They bonded on the field and off the field. It just becomes a sisterhood, especially for the ones who had been there three or four years. It is blood, sweat and tears — and they did have a successful season last year. They didn’t want to go to different schools and play with different student-athletes.

Almost as a joke, I sent out a group text to my players. It was a picture of an NYIT sign and the message, “Who’s coming?” I got 13 “yeses”: “Yes.” “Yes, can’t wait.” “I love the new colors.”

The parents, all the girls, the athletics director, the academic advisors — they sat down with everyone and really made sure this was a fit for everybody. I told them no hard feelings — I wanted, at the end of the day, what was best for each student-athlete. In the end, we had 13 from last year’s roster transfer to NYIT, plus one returning Dowling student who had taken a year off. We also had two of our recruits come to NYIT.

There was a lot of anxiety leading up to it, but it was a smooth transition academically and credits-wise. NYIT did accept almost everybody’s credits, which alleviated a lot of stress for seniors trying to graduate on time. From a terrible situation, this was definitely a great outcome.

NYIT is in the same conference Dowling was — it just never had a lacrosse program. We played them in all the other sports. I took my Dowling schedule, and we just crossed out “Dowling” and put “NYIT.”

Our biggest thing leading into this season is, “Who are we?” Who we are is NYIT. The Dowling Golden Lions’ ghost lives on at NYIT. It does, in a sense, because that is our past, and I don’t want the team to forget that. Our biggest thing is coming together as a team and mixing past players with new players and defining who NYIT is.

The game is the same. The name on the jerseys is different. We are appreciative of where we are. We were Adidas before, and now we’re Under Armour. We were navy and white, and now we’re blue. A different shade of blue, but still blue.

Kerri Handras is the founding women’s lacrosse coach at the New York Institute of Technology and previously started the women’s lacrosse program at Dowling, where she coached lacrosse and women’s soccer for 12 years.

 

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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