The first day of classes at the College of Staten Island carries with it the promise for an exciting academic year for the student body of over 13,000 at the campus, but for a select population located within Athletics, the upcoming athletic year will be unlike many others. Coming off of a CUNYAC Commissioner’s Cup, awarded to the conference’s highest-achieving athletics program a year ago, CSI is bracing for a ground-breaker in 2018-19, complete with four new varsity sports added to their slate of offerings and four new coaches championing 10 of CSI’s 18 total programs.
“The start of any new year is exciting but even more so this year with the new staff additions, it’s definitely added a different level of anticipation,” said CSI Director of Athletics Charles Gomes. “We are hoping to set the bar high this year and to keep the competitiveness of our program moving forward.”
Of course, most of the energy centers around new staffer Jason McFall, who alongside his duties as Athletics’ Coordinator of Operations, will double as Head Coach for Men’s and Women’s Cross-Country and CSI’s four newest sports, Men’s & Women’s Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field. Club offerings for the past several seasons, Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field provide a year-round presence for CSI’s gifted slate of harriers, and McFall had a quality recruiting year in his first go-around, hoping to make CSI competitive right out of the gate.
“I am very excited to be coming in and being a part of a competitive cross-country and track and field environment at CSI,” said McFall. “I think it will be a first year with plenty of learning, but I’m very excited to see the development of our newcomers and returners and building a premier program within the CUNYAC.”
McFall is also one of four new head coaches that CSI will spotlight in 2018-19. He takes over six programs, while part-time men’s and women’s tennis coach Joseph Gravagna represents two others. CSI Women’s Tennis won a pair of CUNYAC Championships in 2013 and 2014, but has been shut out since. The men’s unit is on a CUNYAC Championship drought, having not won a title since 2003. Gravagna is eager to get the competitive level raised for both programs, despite being hired just a handful of weeks ago.
A new coach will also open the competition year at CSI, as Brittany Casares’ women’s soccer team will start the year off on the road at Kean University on August 31. Casares is in a much different position than Gravagna, inheriting a proven winner, as the Dolphins have captured the CUNYAC’s last three championships and nine overall since the school adopted the sport in 2004. Casares’ appointment came with CSI moving the coaching position from a part-time line to a full-time line (Equipment Manager duties were added to Casares’ plate), something that Gomes has been striving for since taking over the program just over five years ago.
“We are definitely looking forward to seeing the impact that our full-time coaches can have,” said Gomes. “The movement to a full-time head coaching staff is something we have talked about for the past several years and to see it come to fruition is very satisfying. We hope to continue that trend moving forward because we hope it will allow our teams to be more competitive and improve the student-athlete experience overall.”
CSI’s final rookie coach is recent addition Nicole Sarcone, who will make her collegiate debut this winter with women’s basketball, a team that took home a Championship two years ago and made a return trip to the Final in 2017-18. The rub, however, is that the team lost nearly 75 percent of its scoring offense a year ago, and seem destined for a rebuild unless the coach can turn the tide.
The new coaches are enough to generate a buzz around the facility, and they accompany the addition of Erin Van Nostrand, who became CSI’s second Associate Athletic Director in the program’s history, doubling as it’s Compliance Officer, and men’s basketball head coach T.J. Tibbs, another coach who was elevated to full-time with additional duties as Camps & Clinics Coordinator.
Tibbs brought home a CUNYAC Championship in 2018-19. Head Softball Coach Stella Porto, whose 16-year career is the longest among all CSI coaches, brought home the team’s sixth-straight CUNYAC title last season, and baseball skipper Michael Mauro brought home the team’s fourth-straight Championship on the same day. In 2019 in baseball, the CUNYAC will partner with the NAC to provide a national championship tournament berth to the combined conference winner, a major move ahead for the sport. To say that the trajectory doesn’t remain high for CSI’s highly-competitive sports like these would be an understatement.
“Those three programs in particular have a rich history and we are looking forward to taking the next step by advancing deeper into the NCAA Tournament, or in the case of baseball, playing for the right to get to the national championship tournament,” said Gomes. “The partnership with the NAC is something we have been striving for for many years and to have that opportunity with one of our high-achieving programs is a great feeling. I know the spring is a long way off but that is something that I am most looking forward to.”
The Dolphins complete the athletic year with the emergence of sports like Men’s Soccer, who figure to be chasing a CUNYAC title that has eluded them since 1998. The team has won a pair of Regular Season titles under sixth-year Head Coach John Tardy and promise to be in the mix again this season. Head Coach Michael Ackalitis pioneers the swim programs, who will face a challenge this season as upgrades to the Sports & Recreation Center facilities have kept the pool offline this summer and perhaps into the training season. Still, CSI hasn’t dropped past a third-place finish on either the men’s or the women’s side in over a decade. Rounding out the hopefuls for a quality campaign are the men’s and women’s volleyball units. Head Coach Lak Wai (Larry) Ng took over the programs during the late-summer in 2017, and now with a full off-season under his belt, hopes for a climb through the standings in year two. CSI Cheerleading, a club sport at the College, won the CUNYAC title last year, and have no intentions of giving that up under second-year coach Kristie Perrotta.
“Our level of expectation as a department is to improve every year, and that means different things for different programs,” said Gomes. “I think we have shown that we can be competitive in the CUNYAC and I hope that moving forward we can continue to do that in the future and that each of our teams can focus on winning a CUNYAC tiitle.”
CSI has certainly had its share of winning, attested by the 102 CUNYAC titles the program has collected since it’s debut in 1976. The unparalleled performance a season ago gave the program it’s second Commissioner’s Cup in history last year, their first since the 2000-01 season. The Commissioner’s Cup weighs each CUNYAC school’s 10 highest-achieving programs and awards points depending on finish. Gomes has enjoyed the trophy’s stay within the department’s Student-Athlete Study Lounge, seeing it as a constant reminder to the hard work and effort his programs exude. He does, however, understands what it will take to keep it at CSI.
“While we are happy to win the Commissioner’s Cup this past season, by no means are we satisfied,” Gomes noted. “We feel that all of our teams should be competitive and when you are, you are going to win. As we look to be more competitive regionally and nationally in all of our sports, vying for the Commissioner’s Cup in the future is a natural step and we will look to keep it if we can.”
CSI’s sports season begins on Friday with women’s soccer, with women’s volleyball ushering the home portion of the athletic year with a home tri-match on Saturday against non-conference competition. Most home events at CSI are free and all events are PG-CLUE Certified for all CSI Students. Home soccer, volleyball, basketball, swimming, baseball and softball contests are broadcast live via CSI SportsNet, and many sports feature live in-game statistics. Complete schedules are available via www.csidolphins.com.