By, Jilleen Barrett, Managing & Features Editor
After six seasons with the Jaspers and an impressive winning streak at the 2022 MAAC Championships, Heather Vulin’s contract as head coach has been extended till 2028.
Before taking on the role of head coach at Manhattan College, Vulin served as a recruiting coordinator at Virginia Tech, Villanova and Sacred Heart. Having always wanted to be a head coach, Vulin credits Manhattan Athletic Director Marianne Reilly ’82 — who was a member of the women’s team herself — for giving her a chance to pursue this opportunity in 2016.
Ever since then, Vulin has worked to build a strong program, which she said proved to be difficult during her first two years, as she was working with players she did not recruit.
“The first year obviously, you inherit, so it’s not like you got to pick everybody that’s on the team … maybe they weren’t at the talent level or the commitment level that you would expect to try to be running at a Division I program,” Vulin said.
Part of what helped Vulin shape the team to her style of coaching was staffing the type of coaches who could show her players how to be successful in different areas of their lives.
“I feel like I’ve done a really good job of hiring just really dynamic females that have been incredible workers for me, but also just incredible mentors for our student athletes,” Vulin said.
Christina Katsamouri, a senior guard/forward for the team, told The Quadrangle that Vulin is like a mother to the team. Having moved from Thessaloniki, Greece to come to Manhattan, Katsamouri said that having someone look out for her was imperative for her. She is looking forward to the upcoming season.
“I’m very excited [about] where this season is going to get us and where Coach V (Vulin) is going to get us, she really loves this team and this job and she puts her heart and her whole life into it and that makes it even more fun because she cares,” Katsamouri said. “It’s not just another job for her. It’s actually her entire life and you would want to have a coach that cares so much because that’s contagious.”
Reilly said the way Vulin cares for the team contributes to their ability to thrive in college.
“Basically the reason why we wanted to commit to [Vulin] is because she’s done an unbelievable job with the culture,” Reilly said. “She’s so engaged on campus [and] with different constituents on campus and she does a great job with her program, holding our student-athletes accountable for the things they need to be held accountable for … So to me, she’s building the culture for a championship caliber program that we’re looking to build here.”
One of Vulin’s traditions includes “culture nights,” where everyone on the team brings a dish that “makes them think of home.” During the 2021-22 season, Vulin had five international players on the team. The 2022-2023 season is expected to include more, however, as several transfer students and incoming freshmen from different countries have officially signed to be a part of the team.
“I would say like the first time we did the cultural night, like that was a really special time because not only were we spending time together, but it was really nice to hear the stories that were behind the food,” Vulin said.
One of Vulin’s favorite memories from culture nights was when Dee Dee Davis, a guard for the team, brought candy apples. Davis said bringing this dessert “allow[ed] my teammates to see a very important element of my childhood” in Concord, New Hampshire, where she spent her summers growing up.
“The real reason I chose to bring candy apples for culture night this year was because we’d have them as a family after each beach day, fishing trip, carnival experience, etc,” Davis said. “They symbolize the little girl in me who’s never left Concord or the people who looked after me there.”
Vulin also prides her program on not only preparing her players to compete on the court, but also in the classroom and professional environment. Vulin encourages the team to seek out internships, even if it conflicts with basketball, as part of her goal to coach intelligent and career oriented women, not just talented basketball players.
“I think one of the strong suits we have here at Manhattan College is the proximity to these incredible internships,” Vulin said. “So it’s part of the recruiting process … It may not be perfect for you or perfect for me, but we will somehow figure it out so you can do these internships.”
Vulin shares that the team typically has two or three players participating in summer internships and the occasional school-year internship. Though this may make it more difficult to find a practice time that suits the schedules of all the players, Vulin considers it imperative to the program she has built and is continuing to build.
“That’s one of the big reasons I wanted to stay is because this is a place where I can run the program the way I want to run in terms of developing my players on and off the court, but they’re really surrounded by just tremendous people that want to help them get to that next step,” she said.
According to Vulin, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Rena Wakama holds the responsibility of finding community service opportunities for the team. During the 2019-20 season, the team was ranked fifth for most community service hours logged out of all Division I women’s basketball teams in the nation.
“[T]his summer, we worked with Grow our Gain, which is a nonprofit organization in Harlem, where our girls help eight to 10 year old girls fall in love with basketball,” Vulin said. “During the school year, we also work at local soup kitchens … we try to do community service where it’s more serving people that need it.”
Vulin says her hopes for the team’s season are to maintain the team’s health and improve wherever they can “be prepared to compete for a MAAC regular season title — that’s the goal — and then to be playing our best basketball going into the MAAC tournament so we can win.”
However, Vulin feels that a winning team is not the only important thing, which is why she recruits players based on attitude as well as ability.
“I feel my staff and I have done a tremendous job of bringing in the right people,” she said. “A big thing that we look for is not just talented players, but players that are willing to sacrifice for each other and put the team before themselves, and when you’re with a group that is highly motivated [and] super talented, it’s just really fun to be in the gym with them.”
With Allie Bassetti and Kiki Griffin moving on to other opportunities, Vulin has a few new people on her coaching staff as well as some familiar faces being promoted. Raven James, who was recruited to Villanova by Vulin, will be the director of team operations. Samera Marsh, formerly of Monroe College’s women’s basketball team, will be stepping into the role of assistant coach along with Wakama, who has held that role with the Jaspers for more than five years. In addition to assistant coaching, Wakama will be working with Callan Stores (who is currently on maternity leave) as recruiting coordinators.