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Q&A: A Year In Review With Dr. David Paitson

David Paitson

LSSU Athletic Communications

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich.—With the 2018-19 season officially underway for Lake Superior State Athletics, we sat down with Dr. David Paitson to recap his first year as LSSU's Director of Athletics and discuss the forward momentum of the department.

Q: Summarize your first year as AD at LSSU and explain the state of the department now compared to when you arrived.

A:  We have stabilized as a department and are now in a position to continue making positive strides.  The previous spring, the university had been dealt a major blow with the death of President Pleger. Kris Dunbar had transitioned from the AD job to the GLIAC commissioner role a few weeks before the unexpected tragedy.  There was an absence of leadership for more than four months.  Not only was there no leader in place, but other key positions were unfilled as well. The summer months are critical for planning so we entered way behind and in need of building the team back up quickly so that was my first priority. We were able to secure Hunter Perry (marketing) and Cullen Maksimowski (athletic communications) in two key positions and over the ensuing several months solidified the rest of the team.  For us to succeed as a department, we are going to do it through good people. I think we have a very smart, talented, driven and committed group of people in our building right now.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge or obstacle for Laker athletics?

A: Like many intercollegiate programs, we face the challenge of a lack of resources.  Our Division II programs compete in one of the most respected conferences in the country filled with schools five to ten times the size of ours.  Our Division I hockey program works with a no-frills budget as well.  It is important that we understand who we are and do not get frustrated by the comparisons to other programs.  The path to improving our resources is by assisting in the university effort to grow enrollment, by creating partnerships with the business community, increasing our ticket sales revenues and engaging and soliciting support from our alumni. These are all area in which we intend to be successful moving forward.

Q: What were some of the biggest success's as a department or individually during your first year as AD?

A: I was very proud of the performance of our student-athletes in the classroom this past year. Securing a 3.11 overall student-athlete GPA was a great accomplishment because that is why we are here, after all to prepare students for life after college. Our student-athletes are preparing for careers in finance and economics, nursing, robotics, fire science, geology, forensic chemistry, and fisheries and wildlife just to name a few.   On the field of play, women's golf turned in record scores in back to back tournaments, men's basketball ran the table with an undefeated home season and reached the round of 32 at the NCAA tournament. We also had many tremendous individual performances with Akaemji Williams (men's basketball) setting numerous school records, David Mitter (cross country) being named to the All-GLIAC Second Team and AlexiAnn Drouin being named the GLAIC women's tennis player of the year. Collectively over the last 10 years, with the exception of men's basketball, our teams have not found consistent success on the field of play. I believe with that stability we've added to our department and the great group of people we have with us; we'll begin making significant strides to be more competitive across the board.

Q: During your first year you signed each of your full-time head coaches to multi-year contracts.  How is this strategy significant to the future success of Laker athletics?

A: We need to build continuity within the department and on the team side.  Fortunately, I inherited a solid group each of which I believe can make a positive impact on their programs. It was important to send a message throughout the department that we are committed to success.  We intend to win with integrity, graduate our student-athletes on time and set the stage for our student-athletes for a productive life after concluding their careers with Lakers Athletics. If we are going to thrive as a department, we also need to build a stronger relationship with our letter winners, alumni and the community.  To be successful toward those objectives we needed to end the revolving coaching door.  Fortunately, Kris Dunbar (former AD) and Jennifer Constantino (interim AD) had made some quality hires so that made my job easier. 

Q: Can you touch on a few of the new additions to the coaching staff?

A: We'd like to make Lake State athletics known for attracting and developing talented young coaches and we have secured some good ones this off season.  Devon Mulry (men's basketball) spent six years with the University of Michigan basketball program and was referred to us by (U of M head coach) John Beilein.  Devon and Ted Stowe, who has moved up to the No.1 assistant position, are a strong tandem for Coach Hettinga.  When Rich Metro left the hockey program for a head coaching opportunity at of one of the top college prep programs in the country, we were able to reload with Notre Dame assistant Zack Cisek who came highly recommended by Irish (and former LSSU) head coach Jeff Jackson.  Finally, through the NCAA Coaching Enhancement Grant, we secured an All-American and professional distance runner Danielle Filipek for our track & field and cross-country teams.  Devon, Zack, and Dani are all individuals who bring skills that will immediately elevate their respective programs. 

Q: When Steve Hettinga signed his new contract extension he also took on the role of Assistant Athletic Director.  What went into that decision?

A: Men's basketball has been our most successful program over the last 10 years and that's 100 percent attributable to Steve. He's found a way to build successful teams even though his counterparts have more resources.  He's a proven leader and we wanted to leverage those talents. Part of his role will be to mentor our young coaches.  He will also lend an important voice in shaping all facets of our department. 

Q: Which team is most ready to make a move this year?

A: Women's tennis has a chance to impact the GLIAC this fall. We have a good returning nucleus, led by AlexiAnn Drouin and Tara Harvey to go with several promising recruits. Luke Ogren is building a nice team on both the women's and men's side.  I also expect to volleyball to make significant improvements this season. Coach Schmidlin has brought in eight new freshmen this year in his first recruiting class that have already begun to make an impact on the court. I think in a year or two you'll begin to see this team evolve into a contender in the GLIAC. Women's basketball is another team I feel is on the brink of being very competitive in our conference. We saw the team make steady improvements throughout last season in coach Lokken's first season and I looking forward to seeing that trend continue.

Q: You also committed to an extension with head coach Damon Whitten. What can we expect from the hockey team this year?

A: This could be the deepest and most talented Lakers hockey team in a number of years.  It is an experienced group and with good leadership in the locker room.  Seventy-five percent of our scoring returns along with several newcomers who are expected to immediately contribute.  We have two gifted goal tenders – Nick Kossoff and Mareks Mittens and a strong group of defensemen in front of them with five of our top six players returning.  Zack Cisek brings a new dimension to the coaching staff that fits well with Mike (assistant coach York) and Damon. We're very optimistic this season.

Q: One of the first things you did was upgrade and expand social media presence.  Why was that important? 

A: We needed to do a better job of telling our story and the new website, along with the various social media pages, provide us the tools to deliver our message and promote our programs.  We'll focus on improving and expanding upon student-athlete feature stories, game coverage, and video content.  We will encourage our alumni, community, family and friends of the program to engage with Laker athletics via these outlets and share with their friends.  The more the audience builds the more others will become familiar with our program and our university. 

Q: Within a few months of your arrival you became part of the Board of Directors for the United Way.  How important is community engagement?

A: Very!  I am appreciative of the opportunity to align our program with a group like the United Way that touches so many lives through a variety of agencies in the community.  Our department top to bottom will be engaged in various events and programs.  We'll also build upon our relationship with the Diane Peppler Resource Center through the "Stand Up" campaign against sexual abuse.  Aligning with these quality organizations is important for our department on so many levels.

Q: Early in your first year athletics became one of the few departments on campus to have 100% of its employees donating back to the university.  How important was that?

A: It is both a show of commitment to our department and university, but also a statement that we believe in our athletic vision and in the vision of this university.  If we are going to ask others to support our vision, then we first need to demonstrate we are committed with our own personal investments.  In large part it is symbolic, but authentic and incredibly important.  I am thrilled our entire team stepped up.  It speaks well of the optimism and unity within Lake State athletics! 

Q: Has there been success in reaching out externally?

A: Yes, we've had a very productive summer with regards to business partnerships.  Sponsorship dollars will be at a record level for the program, but there is still room to grow.  There are several cornerstone fundraising events that are solid, but we need to work on tweaking or consolidating others.  We are just about to get into calling upon our athletic alumni to get more involved both financially and in engaging the program.   

Q: What are you goals for the next year?

A: First, to continue to succeed in the classroom.  We are very proud of what the student-athletes accomplished this past year and we want to build upon that.  We'd like to see each of our teams make positive strides on the field of play.  We are working on introducing a couple of mentoring programs to improve our student-athlete experience.  If successful, we will take those mentoring programs department wide in another year.  We will review potential improvements and expansion to the Norris Center to accommodate additional intercollegiate athletic teams.  We will integrate Laker athletics into the community via our charitable alignments, visits to schools, integration with youth sports, etc.  We'll look get our Letterwinners more engaged with the program. Finally, we'll look to increase the visibility of our program through story telling and a more aggressive distribution of information.

Q: What are the big picture plans for the future?

A: To put Laker athletics back on the map.  To rebuild a hockey into a program that at least makes the occasional NCAA playoff appearance.  Secure enough support to elevate our current programs and work toward improving and expanding facilities in preparation of adding additional sports to assist in building university enrollment.

Q: What are some things Laker fans should look forward to this year in athletics?

A:  Visible progress, an improved presentation with teams and student-athletes that we all can be proud to represent Lake Superior State University!