A new era for Great Bay CC

08/26/2015 by Mike Zhe

PORTSMOUTH — At most colleges across the region, the last days of August are a game of beat-the-clock.

Landscaping projects are completed. Construction debris is cleared. Registrations are organized.

That’s especially true at Great Bay Community College, where the new semester begins on Monday and the construction project just completed has ushered in a new era for the two-year college located at Pease Tradeport.

For the first time, Great Bay is entering an academic year with sports among its offerings. The Herons will compete in the Yankee Small College Conference in volleyball, golf, and men’s and women’s basketball.

A deal is in the works to have the majority of basketball games broadcast on local radio. Three of the sports will play their home games in a brand-new, 400-seat gym, part the new Student Success Center, and an athletics website — gogreatbay.com — is expected to go live later this week.

“I thought (the gym) was going to be good and it exceeded my expectations,” said Dave Sokolnicki, who was hired as the school’s first men’s basketball coach in March. “I took a (prospective) player in last week. He and his mom just walked in and said, ‘Wow.’ You walk in that first door, you take a look at the facility … we’re in pretty good shape.”

Contractors spent the end of last week buffing the floor and touching up the paint, which means the gym is off–limits for a few more days. The shiny court, emblazoned with the school’s colors, logo and mascot — the heron — is the centerpiece of the $5 million Student Success Center, which also includes a fitness room, offices and a student lounge.

gbcc_basketball.jpgIn short, there’s a buzz on the small campus as the school year approaches.

“It’s a whole different world,” said Mike Fischer, the associate VP of student affairs. “It’s funny. We haven’t started classes and last week, the amount of people I had to keep throwing out of the building, with the construction going on … it’s amazing.”

Joining the club

The Yankees Small College Conference is a collection of 14 two- and four-year colleges that compete under the umbrella of the U.S. Collegiate Athletic Association.

“It’s a positive thing to add another school,” said Paul Hogan, the men’s basketball coach and athletic director at N.H. Technical Institute in Concord, one of the league’s stronger programs, “and the location of Great Bay is terrific.”

Like the stated mission of NHTI — “Start here … go anywhere” — the goal of Great Bay is to equip its students, and student-athletes, with the skills to succeed, whether they’re attending the school right out of high school or returning to education after years away.

“We’d like to win,” said Fischer, “but the primary focus right now is developing strong student-athletes and strong people.”

Sokolnicki takes over the men’s basketball program after 13 years as the head coach at Nichols College, a Division III school in Dudley, Mass., and the last three seasons as the head coach at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Dover.

Former University of Bridgeport player Allyson Britton was hired in January to coach the women’s team. She is the only full-time employee in the athletic department, also working in the student life department; on Monday, she’ll oversee the school’s first-ever student-athlete orientation.

“I’ve had some pretty good interest (in the women’s basketball team),” she said this week. “As the school year gets closer I’m getting more and more interest.”

Fischer said 90 percent of the athletic budget will come through fundraising, including the school’s annual golf tournament in the spring that raised more than $30,000. Coaches like Sokolicki are paid a stipend.

Those stipends are the biggest expenses, but travel will also eat up a chunk of the budget. Hogan estimates his NHTI teams take about three trips a year that require overnight stays.

“We’re not staying at five-star hotels,” he noted. “We stay at a nice, clean place at a good location.”

At NHYI, Hogan has led his teams to conference titles in 2004, ’05, ’06 and ’10, and the USCAA national championship in 2005. More than 60 of his players have moved on to play NCAA basketball, mostly at the Division III level but occasionally at Division I or II. He compares the quality of play among the top teams in the YSCC to that of a mid-level Division III college.

Sokolnicki and Britton will hold tryouts for their teams the first week of October, mostly players who enjoyed some success in high school and want to continue playing. The top eight teams qualify for the conference tournament at the end of the season at Central Maine Community College in Lewiston, Maine.

“There’s going to be some ups and downs,” said Hogan. “But if he can establish a core group of 3-6 players who’ll be with him for a couple years, that’s huge. They’ll become the cornerstones of the program. Fifteen years from now there’ll be pictures of them on the walls.”

A new era

On Wednesday, Sept. 23, the first athletic contest in school history will take place here, when the volleyball team opens its season against NHTI.

The coach of the volleyball team is Rye native, and former Portsmouth High School and St. Michael’s (Vt.) College standout Amy Maltagliati, who was hired in February after spending the last four years as head coach of Baltimore City Community College.

“I feel honored to have this opportunity and I’m very excited to be able to develop a program that will focus on creating confident leaders for this community,” she said.

Great Bay has a student body of about 5,000 students, with 70 percent of them part-time students. The average age, about 27 some eight years ago, is now closer to 25.

Fischer sees the athletic offerings as something that will increase the number of full-time students. In-state students pay $200 per academic credit, with 12 credits constituting a full-time workload.

‘We always pride ourselves on affordable education,” said Fischer. “So many high school students see us as a way they can save some money but still want the full college experience. Now, with the Student Success Center, they can have that — everything except the dorms.”

There will be no admission to athletic contests. Most of the basketball games will be broadcast on local radio, said Fischer.

“That’s exciting for us,” he said. “That’s a nice little perk.”

Fischer said that in another year or so, the school may look to increase its athletic offerings. The other current sport is golf, which competes in the fall; that team is coached by Josh Civiello, a guidance counselor at the Seacoast School of Technology.

“The most logical ones are baseball, softball, and men’s and women’s soccer,” he said. “They’re all offered in the Yankee Conference. But for the next year, we really want to make sure these (four) get off the ground.”

Sokolnicki said he was attracted to the Great Bay job, first and foremost, because it was in Portsmouth, where he and his family make their home. But he also said the school’s vision for developing students, and student-athletes, made taking the job a “no-brainer” for him.

“Portsmouth is Portsmouth,” said Sokolnicki. “It’s a great place, a great school. We have a great product with the Student Success Center. We think we have a lot of pieces in place for success.”

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