‘Exciting to be in year two’: Athletic Director Freeman discusses the current stages of her five-year plan

Athletic+Director+Sherryta+Freeman+has+continued+to+support+new+committees+as+part+of+her+strategic+plan.+%28Photo+by+AJ+Traub+20%29

Athletic Director Sherryta Freeman has continued to support new committees as part of her strategic plan. (Photo by AJ Traub ’20)

AJ Traub

After releasing her five-year strategic plan in September 2018, Athletic Director Sherryta Freeman is following through on her commitment to student athletes and the department’s teams.

“I feel a great sense of responsibility to our student athletes and to our community to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to make athletics the best experience for our student athletes first and foremost, and then that we’re doing all the other things on the periphery that is expected of an athletics program,” Freeman said.

Creating committees is one of the first steps Freeman said she has worked on in following through with her points of emphasis in the strategic plan. One of the changes that has come out of the collaboration is the increasing role of the Leopards Lair, the Lafayette student section at sporting events. 

“I always want to give credit where credit is due,” Freeman said. “I think our students and their initiative in wanting to see an enhancement of school spirit on campus is what is driving that.” 

“One of the things that you would hear from our student athletes, you certainly hear from our coaches, I remember it as a player, [is that] you feed off of the energy that is around you,” she added. “Having fans in the stands and having students who are cheering loudly, who are connected with you, because they’re in your class, they’re in your dorm. That creates a certain level of comfort, but it also heightens your performance as well.”

Freeman said that some of the ways she can help her student athletes is to have a full-time sports psychologist, a full-time nutritionist, and a “fueling station.”

“I think it would have a positive impact on their performance,” she said. “For right now we are providing those services for them in pockets. But it’s not 24/7. So we’d like to be able to provide it more consistently.”

There have been two coaching changes made under Freeman’s leadership. She released former volleyball head coach Terri Campbell and former women’s lacrosse coach Alison Fisher, and the department will look to fill in the recently vacated fencing head coach position soon as well. Freeman hopes to start that committee next week since former head coach Natalie Kolasa just announced her resignation last week.

“One of the things that we certainly look for, when we are interviewing coaches, is their ability to articulate their approaches to connecting with student athletes of the current day,” Freeman said. “Certainly…coaching has changed, and so there needs to be more attention paid to the experience of the student athlete, ensuring that your communication is strong and clear.” 

When evaluating coaches, Freeman said she asks if the student athletes are having a “fantastic experience” and are committed to the sport. She also makes sure the coaches are teaching the student athletes to “be effective on and off the field of play,” helping with fundraising and doing everything to run the program.

The “coach professional development program,” which is led by women’s soccer head coach Mick Statham, aims to further coach development. Freeman said the committee organized a discussion by three coaches to speak to their individual coaching philosophies, their strategies, and culture with the Lafayette head coaches and assistant coaches. 

Men’s basketball head coach Fran O’Hanlon, longtime Temple and UPenn basketball head coach Fran Dunphy, and Penn State soccer head coach Erica Dambach were the three speakers. O’Hanlon has coached at Lafayette since 1995, winning three Patriot League Tournaments. Dunphy has led Penn and Temple teams to the NCAA tournament 16 times combined. Dambach led Dartmouth and Penn State teams to 13 combined NCAA tournament appearances, including a national championship in 2015.

Freeman said she wants to provide the coaches with the tools to succeed, but she wants to let them create their own team culture.

“I’m not going to tell them how to coach,” she said. “That’s why we hire the professionals…[so our coaches can] come in with hopefully little bits and pieces from each of those places to develop their own philosophy that they believe will work here at Lafayette.” 

With some teams off to roaring starts, including volleyball (11-5) and men’s soccer (5-2-1), Freeman said the credit is due to the individual teams. However, she is excited about the hot starts and even more so to see Patriot League wins coming, with men’s soccer and field hockey winning their conference openers.

Freeman is looking to improve fan attendance outside of the Lafayette student body as well. She says the women’s basketball game last winter where they had Easton area school kids at the game “met every single expectation and then some.” She said the students had a “fantastic experience” and are “excited to do it again this year.”

Freeman added that a lot of colleges struggle with attendance and that some events the department runs are in an effort to increase the crowds at games. 

Altogether, Freeman said she thinks the student athletes “have a pretty good situation right now.” She pointed to caring coaches and staff, nice facilities and athletic and academic opportunities available at Lafayette.

“I think there’s a lot of positives that we have for our student athletes here, which is why I see such tremendous opportunity for what we can accomplish in the future,” Freeman said.