April 22, 2019

International Influence

By B&SC Athletics Team

International Influence

The recipe for success in college athletics varies by team and sport. At the “junior college” level that recipe can be even more challenging when it comes to recruiting and retaining players. Nick Dimitrievski and Alex Grigorita seem to have found one way to stay ahead in the ever competitive United States Collegiate Athletic Association and that is through a strong presence in international recruiting.dennis kicking ball

Both head coaches recruit heavily in the greater Syracuse and New York regions but they also have a strong international presence on their teams. The Bobcats soccer teams have a combined 24 international players between the two rosters; including players from as far away as Gold Coast, Australia, nearly 10,000 miles from Bryant & Stratton College’s Syracuse campus.

“It’s all about networking and trying to find the best possible student athletes,” Dimitrievski said. “Now we’ve ventured into the international market. At the end of the day it’s about finding the best soccer player, wherever [they] come from.”

Dimitrievski’s squad boasts 14 total international players, two each from England, Germany and Serbia and one each from Australia, Chile, Spain, France, Scotland, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Costa Rica. The women’s team features 10 international players, five from Antigua and Barbuda, four from Trinidad and Tobago and another from Barbados.

Bryant & Stratton College’s international presence has been a long standing foundation of the program. This dates back to Grenadian stars Ricky Charles and Sharlie Joseph, the seven-time MLS All Star and 2009 MLS MVP Finalist. Joseph’s legendary MLS career began with the Bobcats as he played two years with Bryant & Stratton College before transferring to St. John’s University to complete his education.

“We’re looking for those types of guys [like Sharlie], that’s the reality,” Dimitrievski said. “A lot of kids what to be that type of player.”

Having one of the most iconic players in MLS history as an alumni makes for a nice recruiting pitch, but another decision may have been more impactful in attracting students to don Bryant & Stratton College blue; the conference move from the NJCAA to the USCAA. Kai Jacobs (Antigua & Barbuda) has been dominant for the Bobcats this year. Scoring 12 goals and adding 11 assists.

The move opened the door for the Bobcats to offer more opportunities to more players. Eligibility rules in the NJCAA only allows student-athletes to play for a school for two years. Unlike the NJCAA, the USCAA allows student-athletes to play for four years as they pursue a bachelor’s degree. This is an added benefit for both the team and players as they have better options to complete their degree program.

That isn’t to say the option of playing two years for the Bobcats and transferring isn’t a popular choice. For example, Scott Robson’s impressive two-year career at BSC was parlayed into a transfer to Bellevue University where he’s already racked up three goals and 11 assists since moving on.

The ability to provide student-athletes the option of playing two or four years is a win-win situation in the eyes of the coaching staff. Every player, regardless of the degree they wish to pursue upon arrival, has the opportunity to turn their on-field exploits with the Bobcats into an offer from a Division I program just as they have the opportunity to spend four years at Bryant & Stratton College and earn a four-year degree. It’s a situation that benefits the program and athletes equally.

Following the footsteps of alums and fellow teammates becomes a pull for future recruits. The opportunity to earn a degree while playing the game they love attracts many international players to Bryant & Stratton College.

“Knowing [Scott] and watching him be able to find another opportunity is appealing to new players like myself,” said goalkeeper Harry Watson. “It gives us a goal to work for to work harder in class and work harder as a player.”

“Not only do players see this as an opportunity to further their education but to improve their soccer as well,” said Grigorita. “The alumni help because [new athletes] know what kind of soccer we play and the level of education they will get here.”

Grigorita has created a pipeline, of sorts, from the Caribbean to the Bryant & Stratton College Syracuse campus. He has had a great deal of success recruiting in areas such as Antigua and Trinidad; That includes leading goal scorers Kai Jacobs and Portia Davis, who both hail from Antigua and Barbuda.

Both Jacobs and Davis are mainstays on the Antigua and Barbuda women’s national team along with fellow Bobcat Kanika Buckley. The draw of Bryant & Stratton College came from the program’s track record and the Antiguan players who played for the program previously.

“Several girls had come in before me who have moved on to other schools,” said Jacobs. “Some are back home and working and are very successful. So that has given me more motivation to come in and have something to look forward to.”

Jacobs added that a previous teammate and fellow countrywoman was selected as a USCAA All-American during her time at Bryant & Stratton College and set the same goal for Jacobs to achieve. After a 12-goal and 11-assist season, Jacobs may just have the inside track on reaching that goal.

Grigorita’s pipeline has even enabled him to recruit three players from the same school in Trinidad and Tobago. Cherise Roberts, Njemile Charles and Jeanille Lawrence all come from the soccer program at Scarborough Secondary in Trinidad, a program that has unearthed a host of talent for the Bobcats. However, Grigorita is quick to point out that the program a student-athlete comes from is secondary for him.

He notes that when he goes to watch someone play, he’s there to watch the player regardless of the team they’re playing on. He contends that it’s more likely his recruiting will draw more players from the same programs as success with the Bobcats often draws more interest for players to come to Central New York for their collegiate soccer.

That trip is hardly a short one for Bryant & Stratton College’s international players. By comparison, the trip Jacobs, Buckley and Davis make from Antigua (roughly 1,984 miles) is a walk in the park compared to that of Josh Martin’s 9,522 miles from Gold Coast, Queensland in Australia or even the 5,302 miles Cristobal Rojas travels from Santiago, Chile.

Naturally, there’s also a difference in weather for many of the players who trek to a region famous for winter snow from otherwise sunny locales. While the weather surprised plenty of newcomers, particularly those who hail from the Caribbean, the welcoming arms of the Bryant & Stratton College community quickly counteract any nasty weather.

“Everyone is there for you everywhere you turn,” Jacobs said.

The feeling of family and community on-campus is a key factor for ensuring the players don’t just feel comfortable in their new city, but they feel at home. As Dimitrievski points out, English is not the first language for many of Bryant & Stratton College’s international athletes. Providing the proper support system for help inside the classroom and beyond is a key aspect of what the coaching staff and academic departments focus on. This includes a new mentor program in which every student-athlete is paired with a mentor who not only checks up on schoolwork, but ensures the transition to life in Syracuse goes smoothly.

“Everyone here makes you feel like you’re family,” Njemile Charles said. “Here, the college is small and compact and not just on the soccer teams but everyone in the classroom and the faculty makes you feel comfortable.

“To be able to be here playing soccer and something I love gives me a sense of pride for both my country and my family. It’s a positive because I’m pursuing my education while doing something I love to do.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by nearly every player on both teams. It’s easy to find athletic teams that are tight knit on the field and in the locker room, but to have that sense of community carry over to the dormitories and classroom goes a long way in creating an enriching environment for every student athlete at Bryant & Stratton College.

It’s that sense of community which continues to play a major role in drawing elite talent to Bryant & Stratton College, keeping the Bobcats soccer teams in the top-10 of the USCAA rankings on an annual basis.