Pawlikowski, #Seawolves building a culture of excellence

Aug. 29, 2014

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Stony Brook, N.Y. – A fiercely competitive person with endless enthusiasm, Stony Brook volleyball head coach Coley Pawlikowski has a clear goal for the Seawolves on the court: To make history by winning the program’s first America East title.

More important to her, however, is to see her student-athletes develop into leaders in the community and reach their highest potentials in the classroom.

“We want to develop people, not just volleyball players,” Pawlikowski said. “In order for that to happen, we as a staff need to be able to create opportunities for them to do that and opportunities for them to get out in the community, to be able to get out of their comfort zones and work with different types of organizations and to set the standard for what we want our program to be and what we want for the department as well.”

Pawlikowski, who begins her second season at the helm when the Seawolves travel to DePaul Friday night, began the process on day one.

“That was something we started stressing before we started talking about volleyball,” she said. “We came in with a 360 approach. We want to be good on the court, in the classroom and in the community and have the community know who we are.”

In only 18 months, Stony Brook is already making great strides towards that goal.

The program recently received its first AVCA Team Academic Award in program history. The award, which was initiated during the 1992-93 academic year, recognizes collegiate and high school volleyball teams that displayed excellence in the classroom during the school year by maintaining at least a 3.30 cumulative team grade-point average (GPA) on a 4.0 scale or a 4.10 cumulative team GPA on a 5.0 scale. 

It was not simply that the Seawolves garnered the recognition; it was how they got there. Without the coaches’ instructions, the team met multiple times throughout the semester to check in with one another.

“Our meetings just came from our genuine concern for one another and how we’re doing,” junior libero Lo Hathaway said. “I think it was big for us to let each other know that what we’re doing off the court matters and how we’re doing matters and that we’re willing to help each other get there.”

Like they do every time they take the court, the Seawolves had to work hard and as a team to reach their goal. The struggle made the accomplishment even sweeter.

“We didn’t know that with academics, it would feel like such a victory, but it was definitely a win for us,” Hathaway said.

The program has become a staple in the Stony Brook campus and local communities. Members of the volleyball program are involved with multiple extra-curricular and volunteer activities, including Peer Mentoring, reading to elementary school students, Stony Brook Day Care, volunteering for the Muscular Dystrophy Association Day Camp, the Miracle League and marching in the Rocky Point St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Pawlikowski and the team do not seek out attention – there are not always photographers around or constant tweets being sent out. Rather, it simply comes from a place of genuine appreciation for what they have been given.

“I think it’s important for our student-athletes to know that to be a Division I athlete at Stony Brook is a giant privilege,” Pawlikowski said. “It’s something we want them to be very proud of. I think getting out in the community needs to be their norm and the bar they set for themselves. When they move on from our program, they’ll be prepared to be the best employee, to be the best spouse and to be the best friend they can be if we provide those opportunities for them along the way.”

Hathaway, who serves as the Social Media & Marketing Officer of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), agrees.

“It’s a way to give back and pay it forward,” she said. “So many people gave so many things to me along the way to help me out, so it is just important to give back and help others along on their journeys." 

Senior middle blocker and second-year Co-President of SAAC Taylor Gillie has found that the appreciative feelings between the program and community are mutual.

“It’s kind of neat seeing how appreciated our efforts in the community are,” she said. “It’s funny, because we do the community service to show our appreciation. It comes full circle.”

Balancing the rigors of being a Division I athlete with academic excellence at a top-35 public research university and community involvement is a lot for a college student. However, the program has a supportive coaching and support staff and team culture to fall back on.

“[Our academic advisor Clare Faurote] does a really good job of just providing that culture that we parallel as a coaching staff,” Pawlikowski said. “One of our goals is no one struggles alone, and that’s on and off the court. I think that speaks highly of our group in terms of what our mission is. If you do need more tutoring or assistance, it’s here for you. Just help us help you get it.”

On the court, the team finished tied for second in the 2013 America East regular season standings and returned to the tournament after a one-year absence. Stony Brook had a fantastic preseason as it looks to get that historic first conference championship.  It’s safe to say the Seawolves are on an upward trajectory between the lines, but the bond they share outside of them is the driving force.

 “We really try to strengthen that and be there for each other in school and community service and anything else,” Gillie said. “That makes us a stronger team.”

“Our student-athletes trust each other off the court, and when you have the trust and have that bond off the court, on the court is fun,” concurred Pawlikowski. “It’s what they all want to do anyway. When you’re on the court with those teammates and you have their backs off the court, it makes for a pretty exciting environment for our team."