Marianne Reilly’s first year at the helm of Manhattan College athletics has seen record-breaking individual performances and the hiring of four accomplished new head coaches, but was also marked with some disappointing team performances.
“There’s been some days where it’s like drinking out of a fire hose, sometimes two fire hoses, and you wonder how you are going to be able to handle it all but we manage,” Reilly said.
The Jasper turned Fordham Ram returned to Riverdale in the spring of 2016 as the college’s new athletic director, a position previously held by Noah LeFevre whose quick abandonment of the post resulted in a four-month interim period manned by Tom O’Connor.
Under O’Connor’s guidance, the search for Manhattan’s new athletic director resulted in Reilly, ’82, who had been a part of one of the first women’s basketball teams and was the first female hall of fame inductee. She spent 30 years at Fordham University before making the move back to Manhattan last March.
“We have a really good staff and good coaches. They make it special, they make it fun, they make it tolerable when the day is difficult,” Reilly said. “The student-athletes inspire me everyday. What a bunch,” Reilly said.
FEMALE COACHES AMONG NEW HIRES
Reilly is the first female athletic director in the college’s history, and only the third in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). Coincidentally, she has also hired four female head coaches to lead the women’s basketball, women’s lacrosse, cross country and volleyball teams.
“We are a part of organizations that recruit female coaches and mentor female coaches. So we always let those organizations know that we have vacancies,” Reilly said. “It was never my intent to say ‘I am hiring a female for this position’ it is always ‘I am going to hire the most qualified person for this position.’”
While it may not have been intentional to hire four female coaches, it does stand out when women fill less than 40 percent of head coaching positions available across all NCAA Division I sports.
“If it’s a female, it’s going to be awesome to have that extra bonus because I think that it is important for women to see other women in leadership positions,” Reilly said.
Heather Vulin, head coach of the women’s basketball squad, joined the Jaspers late last spring, less than 30 days after Reilly was anointed athletic director. Her first season ended with an 8-22 record, a considerable bump from the previous season’s 15 wins.
Even with a less than stellar team performance, the squad had notable individual achievements, including Kayla Grimme earning Third Team All-MAAC honors. Another positive sign for the team is that they will only be losing one senior and should return next season with considerable depth.
In an interview with The Quadrangle at the end of the season, Vulin stated that “My goal with this year was just to really get our culture up and make sure we’re committed to doing things the right way.”
Another one of Reilly’s new hires was professional runner Kerri Gallagher, who was brought to college in September to lead both the men’s and women’s cross country teams.
Gallagher brought a considerable buzz to the athletic department, as she has ran in three U.S. Championships and has competed in the U.S. Olympic trials. Gallagher was just recently inducted into the Fordham Athletic Hall of Fame.
Under Gallagher’s guidance the men’s cross country team won their first Metropolitan Championship since 2001 and the women’s squad finished two places better at the MAAC championship than they had year before.
Bringing in so many new faces, while still being new to the department itself, proved to be a challenge for Reilly. For many of the new coaches this is their first experiences coaching at the division I level.
“I can’t meet with my coaches as often as I’d like,” Reilly said. “But maybe after I get this machine running a little bit smoother I’ll be able to do that. That’s the only thing I wish I had a little bit more time to have done.”
ATHLETES SHINED BUT TEAMS STRUGGLED
This year student-athletes shattered school records and received MAAC honors.
Zavier Turner set a school record for most free-throws made. Erica Modena earned her third-straight All-MAAC honor and had a chance to be on the few four-year honorees in school history next year. Women’s swimming and diving set a new high for points earned at the MAAC championship.
While individual performances skyrocketed this year, team performances struggled both in overall records and within the MAAC itself.
“I’m pleased with the individual performances,” Reilly said. “Sometimes when I look at the overall records sometimes I go ‘oh.’”
Along with women’s basketball’s losing record, men’s basketball also had a tough season finishing with a record of 10-22 overall and just 5-15 in the MAAC. They ended the season in a heartbreaking loss to Rider University in the opening round of the MAAC championship.
“That was a little bit of a disappointment,” Reilly said. “We have everybody coming back next year and then some, so I think we should be a much better performing team next year. …I think we have made some improvements in other areas that you might not see on the court.”
A few notable exceptions to this trend is the softball team, whose performance has been so strong that they went on a game winning streak that only allowed two losses in 16 games. The golf team also performed well this year and placed third at the MAAC championship a few weeks ago.
“I wanted everybody to do their thing this year and let’s see where it falls and now we can have a conversation about how we can make this a little bit better next year,” Reilly said.
While at Fordham, Reilly oversaw the renovations of all seven of the Ram’s facilities for intercollegiate athletics. When asked if the same kind of project could be done at Manhattan, a campus with about 60 less acres of land to work with, Reilly was surprisingly optimistic.
“Can we do some special things here, absolutely,” she said. “We are going to roll out a couple things soon about what we are doing to improve some of our facilities.”
New York City’s regulations and lack of community support has already proved difficult for Manhattan athletics to expand its reach. Bringing men’s baseball back to Riverdale was something that Reilly wanted to accomplish swiftly, but has proved to be more challenging than expected.
“I guess I was a little naive, I thought ‘wow we can turn this around pretty quickly’ but when you are dealing with the New York City parks department there is a lot of red tape,” she said.
LOOKING AHEAD: 2017-2018
With her inaugural year under her belt and the semester coming to a close, Reilly is looking forward to the summer months as a time to rebuild and restructure within the department.
“One thing that I want to go forward with is a young alumni group,” Reilly said. “I wanted to do that this year but there is no way that I could have done it and done it well.”
Reilly wants to focus on and build up the group of alumni who are just one-to-five years out of college. She would like to continue to have them engage in the department and not let them drift away.
Reilly is looking forward to evaluating this past year, and creating an outline of what went well and what can be improved in the upcoming seasons.
“I am a high-achiever. If we’re at 70 percent I want to be at 80,” Reilly said. “No matter how old you are the day you stop learning is the day you stop growing.”