A founding member of the BIG EAST Conference, Seton Hall's Athletics program has had a long and storied history, with a great deal of success on the field of play.
In the 1930s a local reporter noted that the baseball team had played like "a gang of Pirates" in its comeback victory over the league's defending champions— and that remark brought us our swashbuckling moniker.
In that same era a decade or so later, the men's basketball team featured Jack "Honey" Russell, "The Wonder Five" and an undefeated Pirate season amidst a 41 game unbeaten streak. In the early 1950s, the men's basketball team would go on to win the NCAA Tournament's predecessor in national prestige, the N.I.T. Championship; in the 1970s the baseball team won the region and played in the NCAA Collegiate World Series; in the 1980s, Seton Hall would graduate future baseball Hall of Famer Craig Biggio and Mo Vaughn, and in 1989, head coach P.J. Carlesimo would lead the men's basketball team to within one very bad foul call of the NCAA Championship.
New Era of Excellence
In recent years, the excellence continues. Both the men's and women's basketball teams have gone to the NCAA Tournament two out of the last three years— with the men's team upsetting would-be national champion Villanova for the 2016 BIG EAST Championship. Women's Golf won the BIG EAST Championship three years in a row from 2014-16; Men's Golf featured the 2016 BIG EAST individual champion and the league's player of the year in 2016 and '17; and the Men's Swimming and Diving team won its first-ever BIG EAST Championship in 2017.
Impressive. But even more impressive is the academic excellence of Seton Hall's student-athletes. While winning on the field, they've also been winning in the classroom.
The Athletics program has ended each of the last seven academic years with a record-high student-athlete GPA. This last academic year saw the program's combined GPA rise to an unprecedented 3.376.
This academic excellence has not gone unnoticed.
In 2016-17, five of Seton Hall's 14 Athletic programs received public recognition from the NCAA for posting a multiyear Academic Progress Rate, or "APR," in the top 10 percent of athletes in their respective sports in the nation. Seton Hall's baseball, men's basketball, men's cross country, women's cross country, and the women's golf program all received the honor. With 351 total Division I programs, scoring in the top 10 percent is a stellar achievement.
And if that weren't enough, the five programs that received the NCAA's APR Public Recognition Award – baseball, men's basketball, men's cross country, women's cross country and women's golf – all produced perfect scores of 1000. In fact:
- Baseball now has a multi-year APR of 1000 four consecutive years and its score is 27 points above the national Div. I baseball program average of 973. Seton Hall is one of only two BIG EAST baseball programs and one of only 14 Div. I schools in the country to score 1000 this year.
- Men's basketball recorded its second straight multi-year APR of 1000 and its score is 34 points higher than the national average of 966. Seton Hall is one of only two BIG EAST men's basketball teams and one of only 20 Div. I schools in the nation to produce a 1000 score this year.
- Men's cross country scored its first-ever 1000 and is 21 points higher than the national Div. I average of 979. It is one of four BIG EAST schools to produce 1000 this year.
- Women's cross country produced its third straight 1000 score and ranks 12 points higher than the national average of 988. It is one of five BIG EAST schools to achieve the perfect score this year.
- Women's golf has now scored 1000 in all six APR reports since the program's inception and it is 10 points higher than the national average of 990. All six BIG EAST women's golf schools scored 1000 this year.
The Other Nine
While those five sports programs achieved the highest possible score, the other nine varsity programs at Seton Hall also achieved multi-year APR scores above the national average of their respective sports:
- With a 997, women's swimming and diving matched its highest APR score for the fourth consecutive year. It is also the sixth straight year that the program has scored above 990 and the score is 11 points higher than the national average of 986.
- Softball scored a 997, the sixth year in a row and eighth time in 12 reports it has produced a score above 990. It is 14 points higher than the national average of 983.
- Women's soccer's score of 997 marks the fifth consecutive year and ninth time in 12 reports that the program has scored above 990. It is 11 points higher than the national average of 986.
- Men's soccer scored a program-best 992, which also marks the first time it has gone above 990. The score is the third-highest among the 10 BIG EAST schools this year and is 15 points higher than the national average of 977.
- Tennis scored a 992, the fifth consecutive year and seventh time in 12 reports that it has gone 990 or above. It is four points higher than the national average of 988.
- Men's golf produced a 991, the second straight and seventh time in 12 reports it has scored a 990 or above. It is seven points higher than the national average of 984.
- Volleyball scored a 989, matching last year's score and marking the 10th time in 12 reports it has scored above 985. It is two points higher than the national average of 987.
- Women's basketball scored a 987, improving by five points over last year and reaching the 985 or above mark for the seventh time in 12 reports. It is seven points higher than the national average of 980.
- Men's swimming and diving scored a program-best 984, one point higher than last year's 983 and five points better than the national average of 979.
By almost every measure, it is a new era of success for Seton Hall Athletics with classroom performance at an all-time high. But success doesn't come easy, and a closer look reveals a great deal of dedication and behind the scenes work from the student-athletes, coaches and administrators alike.
Director of Athletics and Recreational Services, Patrick Lyons explained, "Our success has always been a team effort. Our student-athletes are serious about their futures and come prepared each and every day to handle a demanding schedule of classes, practice, study hall, strength and conditioning, treatment and more." He continued, "Our coaches first recruit talented young men and women who are capable of succeeding academically and athletically; then they instill a culture of excellence that prioritizes academic achievement. Our academic support services staff works tirelessly to guide our student-athletes along their path towards graduation. And the H.A.L.L. Program provides the programming, life skills and volunteer opportunities to help student-athletes maximize their potential. This has been a winning combination for us and the reason why we can boast record-high and nationally recognized academic performance."
The schedule of a Pirate student-athlete is, to say the least, demanding. The academic workload is the same as that of any other student, but requires an additional commitment to sport and all that entails as well as volunteer work.
Katie Landes, a graduate student and captain of the women's soccer team, has been living this rigorous lifestyle for more than four years. She observed, "Between practices, classes and volunteering, it has at times been difficult. But I have been able to prioritize and manage my time well. You have to. There are so many different hats you have to wear and also so many different experiences athletics offer."
Because she has learned to manage her time effectively, she was able to make the most of her Seton Hall career, explore new interests and grow as a person. She explained, "I want to be involved in different things, so I’m not 'just an athlete.' I enjoy helping out."
Now a member of Seton Hall's Graduate Diplomacy Program, Landes graduated with a degree in History and Spanish and participated in the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the Leadership Academy.
Behind Landes and the many other student-athletes that make up Seton Hall's 14 Division I teams, there is an athletic and academic support team that is highly motivated.
The academic-sports teamwork concept is working. In April of 2017, thirty-eight Seton Hall student-athletes were inducted into the National College Athlete Honor Society, Chi Alpha Sigma, which requires a 3.4 cumulative GPA.
Matt Geibel, who is the Director of Academic Support Services for Seton Hall Athletics, helps make sure that the success athletes experience on the playing field is matched or surpassed by that in the classroom. Geibel '93, serves as "the connection" and "voice" for the student-athletes within Seton Hall's various colleges and schools. Geibel supports the passion of the students to pursue their academic curiosities and explains, "I think it's important for people to understand that student-athletes can major in anything that piques their interest. We have biology, communication, English and business majors just to name a few."
Another big part of Seton Hall Athletics continuing success is the H.A.L.L Program. This program is designed to ensure that Seton Hall student-athletes gain the proper life skills to allow them to excel in life beyond athletics. The program consists of five different components each designed to enhance the student experience and develop the skills needed to be successful inside and outside the classroom: leadership development, student-athlete welfare enhancement, academic and athletic success initiatives, community enrichment, and spiritual growth.
The program has hosted speakers discussing topics such as finance, the effects of drugs and alcohol abuse, and the prevention of sexual violence. Additionally, the program provides athletes with opportunities to network, and helps to prepare them for a successful career after graduation.
Roberto Sasso, associate athletics director for student-athlete development & leadership explains, "We make sure to present our students with networking opportunities as well as additional connections." Through the H.A.L.L program, Seton Hall student-athletes are given the opportunity to serve as both role models and leaders in their community. With a total of 3,167 hours spent in community service over the past year through the H.A.L.L program, the Pirates are able to have an impact outside of the playing field.
Since the program's inception, student-athletes have been involved in events such as "Reading with the Pirates," a monthly program in which student-athletes promote reading to children in the community, as well as "Seton Hall Gives Thanks," in which student-athletes build Thanksgiving baskets to give to those in need. Sasso said, "It's important to not only develop leaders within athletics, but also leaders that are passionate about giving back to the local community."
Sasso hopes that through these networking, career building and volunteer experiences, student-athletes will gain the skills to grow not only professionals, but as servant leaders— fulfilling a primary mission of the University.
A prime of example of that kind of success is Desyre Blackburn '17, a former women's cross country team captain. Blackburn, now a financial adviser at JP Morgan, worked with Sasso during her time at Seton Hall to form the Ivy Hill Elementary Autism Program. Blackburn and other student-athletes worked through the Newark public school to visit with the children and interact with them, using best practices to promote and enhance the children's well being and life skills.
While balancing her heavy schedule as a student-athlete, Blackburn always took pride in doing her best to help others; she credits her experience as a student athlete with helping her succeed. She said, "Being a student-athlete taught me how to do well in tough situations, and how to always put my best foot forward."