For a little over a year, the College of Mount Saint Vincent soccer and lacrosse programs have been able to call the Athletic Field at Marillac their home. The addition of the turf field, which overlooks the Hudson River, is part of a movement from the current administration to make athletics a priority for the future.
“Every time I step on the field it feels like a movie,” says men’s soccer senior goalkeeper Joel Luna. “It is honestly breathtaking.”
Since taking over as president of the Mount in January 2021, Susan Burns has preached about being the “right place on the river” to increase the school’s profile in the local community and beyond.
Burns has been hard at work alongside the likes of athletics director Phil Stern and vice president of operations Kevin DeGroat — with the support of the board of directors to boot — in hopes to bring the school closer to that reality.
Their plan has entailed pouring money into upgrading athletics facilities to improve the student-athlete experience. The fruits of it produced Marillac, as well as a complete overhaul of the equipment in the fitness center connected to another campus hub, the Peter Jay Sharp Athletic and Recreation Center. That venue already offers 50,000 square feet for student activity.
Next up will be adding a state-of-the-art video board inside the basketball and volleyball arena in the Sharp Center, according to Stern.
The construction of Marillac only began last summer, but the men’s and women’s soccer teams are already enjoying their second season playing on it.
“It has made that part of campus that much more beautiful,” Stern said. “It’s so scenic.”
The project has delivered a slew of new additions such as a scoreboard and press box. The focus from now until the end of the month is completing the concession area behind the video board and the bathrooms, which will be accessible there.
Ultimately, the real clincher is the views of the Hudson River, which make visiting players marvel and even whip out their phones to take pictures.
“The opposition always comes out with their phone, recording it with the sun out and clear blue skies,” Luna said.
The Mount’s performance on the new home field has been noteworthy, too. Last season, the women’s soccer team was a tough out, finishing with a 10-1 record in Skyline Conference play and a 7-1 ledger overall at Marillac. In the early part of this season, the men’s and women’s soccer teams have each strung together two-game winning streaks at home.
“It’s an eye-catch,” says Alicia Rodriguez, a junior in women’s soccer and lacrosse. “It makes things so much better playing on it and makes us want to work so much harder.”
The recruiting boost from Marillac is something Stern is confident will fall into place. But if the Mount can continue winning games at home, the investment in the facility looks even better.
“We now have the best facility in the Skyline Conference,” Stern said, specifically alluding to Marillac. “It is something that not only showcases us within our conference but in the region as well.”
Stern was also quick to locate a community partner in Manhattan Soccer Club. The club, which has several teams encompassing a range of age groups, needed a permanent home base and helped fund the $1.5 million project.
First impressions mean everything and Marillac is getting exposed to many with the help of the club.
“If we can recruit some of their kids, it would be great,” Stern said of the talent coming on campus with Manhattan S.C. “We also have their opponents come so there are other players seeing our facility at a young age.”
James Fitzgerald has been the head coach of the men’s lacrosse team at the Mount since 2021. Before that, he was a four-year standout in lacrosse for the Dolphins having graduated from the Riverdale-based school in 2018. Back then, Fitzgerald played games on a rugged grass field, while his players now have the opportunity to play on the artificial turf at Marillac.
Even though he’s not playing, Fitzgerald loves getting to coach at Marillac and seeing his players adjust to the faster pace on turf.
“The game of lacrosse is meant to be the fastest game on two feet and with the new turf it certainly is,” Fitzgerald said. “We get up and down the field faster.”
On Sept. 14, the school officially reopened the revamped fitness center, which brought an end to a $300,000 project. This has led to no shortage of various strength-building machines and training and stretching stations all around the 7,500 square foot space.
“It is beautiful,” Rodriguez said of the enhancements. “And everyone can use it even if you are not a student-athlete.”
The changing demographics across the country have taken a toll on college enrollment at schools in similar size to the Mount, which has roughly 2,300 undergraduate students. Drop off in enrollment and the ensuing losses in tuition revenue have prompted nearly 100 schools nationwide to either close or merge with other schools since 2016, according to educational outlet Higher Ed Dive.
The Mount has reaped its share of perks from a 36-year history and counting as a member of the NCAA Division III. The Mount feels it is in a good spot recruiting student-athletes, with Stern saying the school continues to “hit our goals” with student-athlete enrollment for their 14 varsity teams on campus.
“Dr. Burns has been as supportive as a president could be since arriving here,” Stern said. “Her coupled with the board of directors gives us some cachet to make a difference in the lives of our student-athletes and we are able to do some things other Division III schools cannot.”