A League of Their Own: The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Joan Gould
Water Polo Planet
Updated 4/1/2013

WPP is taking a closer look at some of the schools in each individual conference to help acquaint potential students and parents with the smaller, less known yet equally impressive institutions.  We would like to present a less intimidating, brief overview of schools with water polo programs to help provide the basis for students to start looking at what is available.

College choices for student athletes is NOT only about small vs. large, urban vs. rural, private or land grant…it is about the combined ability of an institution faculty and water polo coach to engage the individual, nurture their growth, and ensure that they have the skills to take control of their own future once they finish. Every student will respond differently to the various institutions and coaches. The process of choosing which one is right is not always simple.

It is most important that players and their parents realize that FEW people in the world make a living from water polo. When choosing a college or university, it is equally (if not more so) important to look at the academic and professional development programs. Doc Hunkler wrote an excellent article about the college recruitment process that should be required reading for all water polo players before they begin the college selection process. A pioneer of water polo and arguably one of the leaders in the sport today, Docs appellation comes NOT from his years of water polo experience but from his academic PhD that earned him a Department Chair at Slippery Rock. As passionate as Doc is about water polo, he has always been equally insistent with his players that the importance of education is a critical component of their futures. Doc's article is available at Recruiter_or_Recruitee?

Get the Facts On the Big MAAC

The next conference we will look at is the MAAC (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference). MAAC isthe newest addition to NCAA Women’s Water polo and as such, is likely the least nationally known group of schools in the sport of water polo.

MAAC became part of the NCAA Women’s Championship in 2005 and MAAC schools are beginning to claw their way to the top of women’s water polo despite the competition long held by CWPA, MPSF and WWPA schools. Competition and quality of play within the league is improving exponentially as the schools spend more time, effort and finances on their water polo programs.

For the large majority of girls, schools within the MAAC conference offer a good choice of options; far more playing time, individual attention both athletic and academic, more support services and smaller classes. The fact that a second or third tier player can easily become a significant impact player in the conference makes MAAC a very attractive option when considering college choices.

It is an interesting fact that colleges of today are competing for a smaller number of available students in the post baby boom era. Smaller, under funded colleges are closing or consolidating as competition increases and many small schools are eliminating entire courses of study. The need for schools to become profitable is illustrated by larger, assembly hall core courses, decrease in the number of upper level course offerings and elimination of student support services, all of which impact the student athlete. In the midst of this, students should consider each colleges specialty areas of study and avoid the smaller, more esoteric (under funded) programs. For instance, Pre Med programs are offered at many schools but few offer well known, published professors and robust programs. Wagner College in New York has one of the top RN and Physicians Assistant programs in the world making Wagner students far more able to enter top graduate programs and jobs both nationally and internationally.

Students who plan to stick with an undergraduate degree are wise to consider each schools job placement and internship record. A degree alone is not enough to get a decent job following graduation; networking and business contacts are a must which is an area in which the New York based MAAC schools excel. I strongly urge students who plan a business major to ignore the weather factor and take a serious look at the New York schools. Iona College and St Francis College have strong ties to the elite New York Athletic Club, a powerful executive organization that supplies many water polo players with impressive internships that lead to quality post college employment. NYAC’s club team allows affiliated players to compete nationally and internationally during and post college which is another big factor to consider.

As the parent of 2 girls, one an elite athlete and one not, I can honestly advise students and parents that the opportunity for world class competition (professional and/or National team caliber) does not exist for the vast majority of girls. College choices for our daughters should be done with an eye to the practicality and efficacy of preparing our daughters for their personal and professional futures. Over the past few years, industry and business has become geared toward a team approach and participation in athletics is becoming more and more important to the total growth of a person. I am more and more convinced that the life skills learned as a leader of a small team will be equally, if not more useful, in character growth and lifelong team building skills than ever before.

Information Is the Right Tool for Choosing a School

Iona CollegeIona College, New Rochelle, New York

Iona is a picturesque 35-acre campus, located only 30 minutes from Manhattan in suburban Westchester County, New York. Having launched one of the nation's first wireless Internet campuses in 2001, students continue to excel in an environment continually transforming to meet the needs of a changing world. This initiative, along with numerous achievements since that time, has led to Iona's inclusion in the Princeton Review's Best Northeastern Colleges and Best 237 Business Schools 2006 editions, and US News and World Report’s annual “America’s Best Colleges 2006.” The College opened two beautiful new residence halls in August 2003 to accommodate the growing number of enrolling students from around the country.

In recent years, Iona has hosted speeches by former presidential candidate Steve Forbes, former New York State governor Mario Cuomo, and, most recently, former presidential candidate and senator from New Jersey Bill Bradley. Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of New York, said “I am delighted to now be a member of the Iona family. Iona is extraordinary and graduates leave the College with a superb education” to the audience upon receiving an honorary doctorate at the 2005 Commencement ceremony.

The Iona water polo program is headed by Coach Brian Kelly who is in his 11th year as head coach of the men's and women's water polo squads. The fourth coach in the history of the men's program and founder of the women's program, Kelly has guided his alma mater since 1995. Under Kelly, the men's squad had nationally ranked in four of the last six seasons. On the women's side, the Gaels have posted eight consecutive winning records, including a program-high 20 wins in 2002 and MAAC Championships in 2004, 2009, 2011 and 2012.

Marist CollegeMarist College, Poughkeepsie, New York

Marist is a progressive liberal arts college in the historic Hudson River Valley of New York.  Only 90 minutes from both New York City and the state capital of Albany, Marist College follows in the tradition of great institutions like Harvard University and the College of William and Mary that were founded as seminaries and developed into independent academies of higher learning.

Recognized for excellence by U.S. News & World Report, TIME Magazine and the Princeton Review, and by Barron's Best Buys in College Education, Marist is noted for its combination of a safe campus community with the proximity and connections to the financial and business centers of New York City  and the governmental centers of Albany.

The nearby Catskill Mountains and other nearby areas of provide trails for hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing, as well as some of the best mountain climbing in the east. Crew, kayaking and water skiing are some of the activities easily engaged in on the Hudson River.

Marist is extremely competitive in the MAAC with MAAC Championships in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010.

Siena CollegeSiena College, Loudonville, NY

Siena College is a community of 2,900 men and women offering degrees in Liberal Arts, Business, and Science. Founded in 1937, Siena is a coeducational, independent, liberal arts college with a Franciscan and Catholic tradition. Student-focused professors are at the heart of a supportive learning community that prepares students for careers, an active role in their community, and for the real world.

Siena students benefit from the College’s proximity to Albany, a hub of political and cultural activity and the center of Tech Valley, by acquiring practical internships (and later, careers) in government, the arts, science and business.

Ninety-eight percent of Siena students enter graduate school or find employment immediately following graduation.

The College’s reputation as a student-centered community of scholars is primarily due to its accomplished and attentive faculty, who balance the demands of academic leadership, publishing, and research with the responsibility of providing undergraduates with a challenging, engaging, and inspiring education of the highest quality.

The advent of the MAAC conference has allowed Siena to improve the funding of their water polo program resulting in a competitive and robust team of 10 players.

St. Francis College St Francis College, Brooklyn, New York

St. Francis College is a private, independent co-educational college that welcomes students from all walks of life, providing a superior liberal arts education at an affordable price. The St. Francis student benefits from small classes taught by professors who are committed to provide an education in an atmosphere of support and friendship. By integrating liberal arts and pre-professional programs, the College promotes the development of the whole person. Both the Franciscan heritage and the Catholic tradition establish a cornerstone of academic excellence, social responsibility, and mutual respect throughout the entire College community.

Integrated learning at St Francis takes on an entirely new perspective in the form of their alumni who are employed by some of the top corporations in the world, headquartered in New York City. Students have the opportunity to combine classroom learning with hands on internships in the financial and corporate capital of the world.

St Francis College mission is to educate first and second generation Americans and as such has educated students from 80 different countries. Its living philosophy of integration and tolerance creates a strong community in which all of the students share in a wide background of cultures.

At St. Francis College, a private college education is more affordable for motivated and deserving students, increasing their ability to graduate with little or no debt.  High-achieving high school seniors who show promise for academic success in college are eligible to receive scholarships that range from $1000 annually to the cost of full tuition (currently $14,020 per year). Over four years, qualified students can potentially receive scholarship support totaling more than $55,500.

St Francis offers 20 Division 1 sports all of which benefit from its talented, multi cultural student body. St Francis men’s water polo teams have dominated the CWPA and the women’s team is well on their way to being a top force in the new MAAC conference.

Villanova UniversityVillanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania

Founded in 1842 by the friars of the Order of St. Augustine, Villanova is a comprehensive Roman Catholic institution that welcomes students of all faiths. The University offers an extensive variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs in business, engineering, law, liberal arts, nursing and the sciences.

Located in a suburban community 12 miles (or 20 kilometers) west of Philadelphia, the picturesque 254-acre campus features more than 60 buildings, including a library with more than 800,000 volumes, an 11,800 seat stadium, state of the art academic facilities, and 26 residence halls.
The oldest and largest Catholic university in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Villanova is one of 262 institutions-and one of 18 Catholic colleges or universities-in the nation to have a chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa, the prestigious liberal arts honor society. For more than a decade, Villanova University has been ranked #1 by US News and World Report in the Best Universities-Master's category in the northern region.

Villanova enrolls more than 10,000 students annually in undergraduate and graduate programs. This academically talented and diverse group comes from 49 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and more than 40 foreign countries.
Villanova's 545 full-time faculty members, 90 percent of whom hold the highest degree in their field, teach classes that average 22 students. The undergraduate student: faculty ratio is 13:1.

Villanova Athletics offers on one of 11 men's or 13 women's NCAA Division I level (football is Division IAA) sports teams, including Varsity Women’s water polo (MAAC conference) or men’s club water polo (CWPA).

In 2006-2007, Villanova offered more than $7.49 million in merit-based academic scholarships to first year undergraduate students. Villanova also offered more than $31 million in need-based financial assistance to prospective freshmen through the Villanova grant program.

Wagner CollegeWagner College, Staten Island, New York

Wagner is a competitive, four-year private college founded in 1883. Wagner College has developed a curriculum that unites deep learning and practical application and incorporates our longstanding commitment to the liberal arts, experiential learning and interdisciplinary education with our geographical location and enduring bond with New York City.

Atop Grymes Hill in New York City's Borough of Staten Island, a neighborhood of historic turn-of-the-century estates and mansions. Once the American home of the Cunard shipping lines dynasty, Wagner's campus provides a setting that feels far away from the city.  This elite location provides the safety and security of rural campus living with a proximity to New York City that encourages business internships, and world class cultural and arts experiences to enhance classical education.

Water Polo Head Coach Pat Beemer has led his team to one NCAA appearance in 2005, a regular season championship in 2006 and hopes to earn another NCAA appearance in 2007.  Beemer came to Wagner after a successful career as a goalie at the University of California, San Diego, where he helped the Tritons to a number-seven ranking in the nation and a Final Four appearance in 1996. Wagner’s roster of 16 ensures optimum playing time with a team that is certain to make NCAA Elite 8 appearances over the next few years.

There Will Be More to Explore

Each month, I will look at the schools in each conference and present a brief overview of each conference’ school. The June feature will be the schools of SCIAC and I encourage each coach to submit an overview of their school to joan@waterpoloplanet.com