Student-athletes up their game
New athletic director sets the bar high on academics and NWAC appearances
By Ainslie Cromar
Clark College’s Women’s Soccer team jogged to the center of the field in early October for the second half of their game against Lane Community College. The scoreboard gleamed red with the score at 1-1, the whistle squealed and in the blink of an eye the Penguins were juggling the ball across the field like a pinball machine.
Madison Ochoa was quick to score a goal and put her team at 2-1. Soon after, striker Facienne Graham topped it off as she swept between two Titans and shot the ball flawlessly into the goal. Her teammates’ cheers pierced the air as they rushed to embrace her.
“The whole time I was like if this ball goes wide and too far I’m gonna cry,” Graham said about her winning score.
Originally from Petit-Goâve, Haiti, Graham came to Clark College after head coach Sean Janson met her at a soccer ID camp and recruited her.
“Sean did everything. He rescued me,” she said.
Janson knew that Graham played at Southern Oregon University and had been recruited by other four-year institutions, like Grambling State University in Louisiana, but he invited her anyway.
“I honestly didn’t think she was going to come here (Clark),” he said.
“I wasn’t getting the clear answers that I needed,” Graham said about Grambling State University. “When I looked into the future I didn’t see myself being successful in school or in soccer there, (but) here I know. I can close my eyes and I can see.”
The women’s soccer team had the best season in its history, ending with a record of 13-3-1 overall and 11-0-1 in the conference. They won the South region for the second consecutive year. The team advanced to the Northwest Athletic Conference (NWAC) Final Four for the first time.
All the other fall sports reciprocated this high standard. Women’s volleyball also had the best season in school history, ending with a record of 34-8 and 11-3 in the conference. The team entered the NWAC tournament in third position and fell to Chemeketa Community College in double elimination.
The men’s soccer season finished 4-8-2 overall and 4-4-2 in the conference. First-year student Eric Hernandez was tapped as the South region’s most valuable player, and four other players were listed on the All-Star team.
Clark’s new director of athletics said the plan is to keep this winning pattern for many sports seasons to come. Appointed to his position on July 1, 2017, Chris Jacob said “the sky’s the limit, in my opinion, for our athletic department.”
One of those unlimited places is academic success. Jacob intends to raise the bar on his student-athletes’ GPAs.
“My ultimate goal this year is to get our cumulative department GPA to a 3.0,” Jacob said. “Last year we just missed it at 2.8. Hopefully we can get that with the right attitude and the right culture we’re building here.”
Graham has the attitude. She’s on track to get her associate degree by year’s end and eventually pursue a career as a kindergarten teacher. After Clark, she plans to go to a Division I university and play soccer. She said she’s thankful that her academic and soccer schedules complement each other and for how responsive her professors and coaches have been during her Clark experience.
Vice President of Student Affairs William Belden said that Jacob and the other athletic staff were hired in essence to create a community for student-athletes to achieve high academic standards.
“From my first day at Clark, I heard about the student-athlete mission,” Belden said. “They’re students first and they’re athletes second. If their purpose isn’t to earn a credential, then we’re not doing things correctly.”
Belden said students bear a variety of challenges like money insecurity, lack of housing or transportation and even hunger. He’s constantly seeking wrap-around solutions to help mitigate these issues.
One solution for athletes is a special edition of College 101. The course is made available for athletes during the summer to provide them with resources for building their future. All incoming students are required to take the course, which is available throughout the year. Belden said Clark is in its second year of offering the course and it’s been promising.
“I think that’s an exciting innovative kind of thing that we’ve done that does pay off as far as preparing students and getting them on the right foot,” he said.
Jacob and Belden have plans to increase community, alumni and student involvement at Clark’s games, such as getting fans more engaged at halftime.
“Like pizza nights or T-shirt giveaways,” Belden said.
Another strategy they’ve started is live video streaming all of the volleyball, basketball and soccer home games along with live stats for baseball and softball. Penguin television can be found on the Clark athletics website.
“We have a lot of student-athletes who are from Hawaii and their families can’t make it to every game, so it’s nice that they can watch,” Jacob said.
A goal for Jacob is having Clark’s teams make annual appearances at the NWAC championships. The women’s soccer and volleyball teams have already satisfied that expectation.
“We’re starting to get the reputation of being one of the powerhouses in the NWAC,” he said.
Jacob is convinced that athletes at Clark will all be winners if they work hard on the court and in the classroom.
“Maybe not in winning numbers, maybe not in winning seasons, but personally in the community they’re going to win and they’re going to learn life experiences. And that ultimately is what we want for our student-athletes,” he said.
Ainslie Cromar is a senior Running Start student from Battle Ground High School. She’s studying for an associate degree at Clark. She intends to pursue a career in journalism. Currently, she serves as the life editor for The Independent, Clark’s student newspaper.