By Matt Noonan
NORTON, MA – It’s official, Wheaton College interim Athletic Director, John Sutyak is excited, as well as all smiles about the upcoming season, as well as his new position too.
The former baseball alum, who spent the past three years as the college’s associate athletic director was promoted to his newest position this past June and certainly, he’s ready to begin his reign.
“Anytime you start a new era, it’s fun and exciting and you want to see how the teams respond. It’s going to be an interesting year [and] like I said, new coaches, a lot of new faces on the teams, so I think I’m looking forward to all of it. I am looking forward to what our kids can do and seeing how they move forward,” Sutyak said.
Sutyak, as well as his team of Lyons, which includes coaches, trainers and department executives have been working steadily around the clock this past summer and yep, they’re ready for fall season. Of course, while there have indeed been some changes, Wheaton Athletics remains in tip-top shape, as well as excited about the “new era.”
Here’s our conversation with Sutyak, as well as his outlook for the upcoming year.
How exciting is it to be the interim Wheaton College Athletic Director?
“I am very proud. What’s exciting to me is when I hear from alums, whether they were ones I played with or went to school with or didn’t even play a sport, [but] I was at Wheaton with, [who happened to] congratulate [me] and they’re excited. Obviously, there was an overwhelming [moment], whenever the news hit, my Facebook just kind of blew up with just people I haven’t heard from in a while and it’s humbling and it kind of makes you realize what you represent and I represent all of them. I represent all of our coaches and working with the staff, [but] we’re not curing cancer, we’re not doing anything crazy, but what we’re trying to do is provide a good experience for our student athletes and I had one of those great experiences, so if I can help [or] do that for others than great, [but that’s what] excites me.”
What are some goals or objectives that you have for this upcoming year?
“I think there’s three things that we’re really kind of focusing on. About a third of our staff [is] new, we’ll have seven new people here at the end of the day, so the first thing is just trying to get all of us together [and have everyone] working as a team. The analogy I use is to think about [being a] coach. [We] have a team. We have 25 different personalities and your job is to manage all those moving pieces to achieve your team goals and I have 25 different people and everyone is in charge of their own sport. I’m not going to be able to please everyone all the time, but as long as we’re all working on the same page and we’re invested in each other’s success, then I think I’m doing my job. The other one is to just recruit and retain students, whether it’s the varsity, the club or the intramural [programs]. We want to keep getting better and keep finding tremendous student athletes that’ll come in and do a great job, so that’s always going to be one of our goals and then the third one [is] just the pride in being a Lyon [and a member of] Wheaton. These are three very simple things, but I think with that last one, I was proud to wear Wheaton on my chest and I think my teammates were and a lot of the people I participated with and went to school with and I’m not saying that isn’t the case now, I think it is, but I want to kind [of] reestablish that in a way. This is the first week that everyone’s been back on campus, so to have [everyone] here and to see the excitement [is great]. I think there’s a lot of excitement in everyone returning too. We have a lot of returners who have been here 17, 15, 14 years, so there’s a good vibe here right now and I think there’s a good vibe on the campus.”
Emily Vincunas and the Lyons Women's Soccer team are ranked 22nd in the Nation. (photo courtesy of Wheaton College Athletics)
The Women’s soccer team is ranked 22nd in the Nation, yet, what does that mean for the College or Athletic Department? Is this a good or bad thing heading into the fall season?
“[NCAA Division III] rankings are always tough because [how does] someone in California knows how someone in New England’s going to be? [Really], how do they know? With that said, anytime you’re ranked nationally and your peers, which was a coaches poll, feel strongly enough for you as a program, that’s a testament to the program that [head coach Luis Reis] has put together and the way his women have worked over the years. First and foremost, there’s that level of respect right there, [but] I’m sure if you ask Coach Reis if he’d rather have the number twenty-two ranking or at the end of the year be the NEWMAC Championship, [New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference], he’d probably take the NEWMAC championship. I don’t want to speak for him, but that’s my guess. I think has a department, it makes you feel [really] good. Obviously people still feel strongly about this department. We feel very good about the product we’re putting out there. Again, as the only New England team ranked and I knew we were twenty-second, I haven’t seen who else is ranked, but it feels great. I’m sure they all feel great, but that also puts a target on your back, which means everyone’s gunning for you and he plays has hard of a schedule as anyone, so I think the good thing for them. They’re not going to let that go to their head because there is not one women on that team right now that has won a NEWMAC championship [because] they’ve fallen short. I don’t think we have to worry about them getting to cocky, but anytime you’re recognized nationally, whether it’s the preseason or at the end of the season, it’s a good thing, so I was obviously pleased for the team, [yet] I can’t say, I had anything to do with it, but I was pleased for coach Reiss and the women.”
What’s so special about being a Wheaton Lyon? What motivates these particular student athletes to succeed on and off the field?
“You might get a different answer from someone that’s doing it now, [but] I think for me, it’s a small school and I think it’s a pretty special place. My friends, my close friends, even to this day, some of them played baseball with me, some of them played soccer, some of them weren’t even an athlete, [as well as] could care less about athletics, but they were still good friends of mine because that’s the kind of place Wheaton is and we weren’t separated from everyone else. I didn’t feel there [were] these cliques of the jocks and the artists and the scientists. I never felt that, [but] at least that was my experience. Although for me, baseball was relatively new at the time, but for me it was we have an opportunity to represent all of our friends and when we’re doing well that’s good for Wheaton. Athletic success has been here for a long time, but it really kind of peaked right after I graduated in ’02, ’03, ’04, so I think now what I would guess, again, not [trying to] speak for current student athlete, but now there’s a tradition laid out. When I was here, that’s when the track team started to win the National Championships. Soccer had not really hit their stride yet. The Men had made one tournament [while] the women hadn’t made it yet. Baseball started with our crew. Softball and Women’s basketball were the two kind of sports that had what they were going at that point and so now with all the success that’s [occurred recently], I think now it’s playing for the tradition and there’s not expectations, but you want to forge your own history, so every new class, which is why I’m sure the seniors on both of our soccer teams [know] how many championships we’ve won on the conference level [and] don’t want to be the ones that leave without it. So, I think it’s kind of evolved over time. First and foremost, you’re playing for the college. You’re playing for your friends, you’re playing for [the] professors, the staff, [and] the alums [and] I think anywhere you go that’s kind of how it is, but that what it was for me.”
How great of a feeling is it to finally watch the off-season work become reality? Are you happy that a new season is just around the corner?
“Honesty, when summer always hits, it’s always good to take a breath and rejuvenate the battery [and really] I never got that “breath” this year because we were looking for [a variety of new coaches or members to join our staff], but even when all that was done and when you thought I’d wanted that breath, I was actually ready for this day to come. Like I always said, you’re turning the page, you’re starting over. Last year we had some great successes. Our tennis and baseball [teams] won [NEWMAC Championships], Women’s soccer getting to the [NCAA Division III tournament]. [Synchronized Swimming] with Christiana Butera, [but overall, we’ve experienced] a lot of great success, [but also], we also had some disappointments and didn’t achieve their goals. That’s OK [because] you’re going to fail in life and you just have to pick yourself up, but now it’s [this] fresh sheet of paper and the history hasn’t been written yet. Everyone here, we’re all zero and zero, right? It sounds cliché, but Volleyball [is training] with a brand new coach and it’s exciting. I don’t know how [their] season is going to go, they could go [25-5] and win the NEWMAC or go [5-25], I don’t know. I tend to think it’s going to be more on the good side because that’s how I see things, but one way or another, we’re always moving forward and it’s all clear. Whatever happened last year, [well, it’s over], but it was weird when I was a student and I left because it was over and you’re like, wow, you move on, but now that I’m here, it’s just like hit the reset button, let’s go. It’s like playing a video game, when it’s not going so well, you’re down two touchdowns in Madden, we’re starting this one over [because] I’m, not losing to the [Cleveland] Browns today.”