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MCLA Athletics announces the return of ice hockey, facility improvements, fundraising campaign

Josh Landes

The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts announced Thursday that it will carry out a multi-pronged effort to revamp its athletics department.

MCLA, home of the Trailblazers, says the new multi-year plan includes significant facility upgrades along with ice hockey’s return to the North Adams college.

“Our vision here is three, two, one: All of our student athletes reaching and maintaining a 3.0 GPA, all of our teams competing for the top two spots in the conference, and everybody working together as one team and so, really, the college is super supportive of this and really wants to further enhance the student athlete experience,” said MCLA Director of Athletics Laura Mooney. “We’re Division III, which means we don't offer any athletic scholarships, but there are academic scholarships available through the college as a whole. So that's the main difference between us and other divisions, is no athletic scholarship money.”

With its tennis program discontinued due to what the college described as “dwindling interest,” MCLA will sponsor 12 teams in 2022 and 2023.

For the 2023-2024 academic year, both a men’s and women’s ice hockey team will be added to the roster. For the men’s team, it’s a return after the program was put on ice after the 2002-2003 academic year. For the women’s team, it’s an MCLA first.

“I do think it'll bring on probably some dual sport athletes, probably with men's lacrosse, mostly on the men's side,” said Mooney. “It will be an interesting group to bring back on campus and to kind of fold into our current culture.”

The most recent addition before ice hockey was men’s lacrosse just before the pandemic. Mooney explained how her department successfully builds a new team from scratch.

“We basically hire the coach a year in advance, so then they spend the whole first year getting out there, traveling around, recruiting, making contacts, connecting with local high schools, with hockey clubs, with anybody and everyone who is going to potentially lead us to prospective student athletes,” she told WAMC. “So it's going to be a lot of work for the coaches in that first year to be able to get enough student athletes here so we can compete in the following year. So in the meantime, we'll work on getting uniforms and equipment and all that stuff kind of along the way. But the number one goal and priority is student athletes.”

Fond memories of the successful MCLA men’s ice hockey campaigns of the late 90s and early 00s linger in North Adams. The team qualified for conference tournament play in each of its last four seasons, and saw its apex in the 2000-2001 season with a third-place conference finish.

“There’s been a lot of alums that have stayed connected to the college and really been supporters of the idea of bringing it back,” said Mooney. “We've had lots of conversations- I think, in my last seven years here, I would just go out to dinner in town, and people would just come up to me and say, hey, when are we bringing hockey back? So there has been a thirst for bringing this sport back.”

Mooney couldn’t be more excited to see the college’s new plans for the literal ground her department operates on.

“Let’s see… today is April 21st, and we have not yet played a home baseball game on our field,” she said. “We've had to travel to other schools, we've had to play downtown.”

Next summer, MCLA will see its main field, first installed in 2007, resurfaced. The college says it will launch a fundraising campaign to turf its baseball and softball fields as well.

“To have new turf facilities on both the main field, which is soccer’s and lacrosse, the Shewcraft Field, and then also turfing baseball and softball, the entire complex is going to look totally different, all as an artificial turf facility,” said Mooney. “And that means we can play in basically any weather. We currently plow our main turf field when the snow comes to make sure that lacrosse is are able to get out there for practices and games- And we'll be doing the same thing for baseball and softball.”

MCLA’s volleyball and basketball teams will also reap the benefits of the sweeping improvements, with the resurfacing and repainting of the James T. Amsler Campus Center Gymnasium floor this summer. In 2022, the men’s basketball team finished fourth of seven in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference, while the women’s team tied for last.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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