Reflecting back on a year in the Colonial Athletic Association, the feelings director of athletics Dave Blank has gauged from Elon University athletes have been positive.
Elon made the transition from the Southern Conference last summer, a move that meant more travel and an increased level of competition for Phoenix teams.
The women’s track and field team provided the lone team conference title, winning last weekend’s CAA Championship meet in Williamsburg, Virginia. Senior Luis Vargas added the individual title at the CAA Cross Country Championships in November to Elon’s resume.
If it weren’t for the track and field championship, it would have marked the first time in a decade Elon went a full academic year without winning a team conference regular season or tournament crown (baseball and softball still have yet to be decided).
Elon did have a number of individual accolades. In addition to Vargas’ championship, Elijah Bryant (men’s basketball) and Stephanie Asher (women’s lacrosse) earned Rookie of the Year nods, Stefan Fortmann (men’s tennis) was named Player of the Year and Kimberly Johansen (women’s track and field) was honored as Most Outstanding Athlete of the CAA Track and Field Championships.
Across all sports, Elon earned 21 CAA Rookie of the Week and 19 Player of the Week honors.
“I just think that the programs in general know what we’re up against,” Blank said. “The student-athletes are liking the level of competition, and they understand it’s going to take a while before we blossom into winning championships on a regular basis. But I think if you go deep enough in to the programs, you see a lot of team success but a lot of individual successes with players of the year and rookies of the year.”
Blank said the biggest adjustments for Elon had to do with travel arrangements and figuring out places to stay on the road, considering more of the travel was to larger cities. He’s happy that teams are competing closer geographically to their hometowns, and that’s also shown in alumni attendance at Phoenix Club-sponsored events.
From a financial standpoint, Blank said everything was right on target with the projections set at the beginning of the year.
Competitively, Elon has had taken its share of lumps at points, but Blank isn’t discouraged.
“I don’t think we had any program that we felt like, ‘Wow, we’re really in over our head,’” Blank said. “I think one that people would point to would be football, and that would be based on how many wins and losses. But if you looked at what the team accomplished and how young they were with a first-year coaching staff, it’s hard for me to even put that in the negative category right now. The test of time is needed in several of our programs.”
Tom Yeager, CAA commissioner, said he thinks it’s been a smooth transition for both the school and the league. He made one visit to campus during the year — in October for Elon’s first CAA football game, a 48-14 loss to the University of New Hampshire. Yeager presented President Leo Lambert with a commemorative football before the game.
“Throughout the process, everything that the university does is done in a first-class manner,” Yeager said. “It’s indicative of all the schools in the Colonial. I know that the feedback I’ve gotten from the schools visiting Elon for the first time were rave reviews.”
Blank isn’t worried about establishing a rival — that’s going to take more time. Rather, he and Yeager are pleased with the groundwork that’s being laid for a successful relationship with the conference and its member schools.
“They really were exactly the kind of school they thought they were,” Yeager said. “They have fit in very, very well. I think they’re going to be a very vibrant partner with our other nine schools in delivering a unique experience.”