Transitioning From DIII to DII

Written By: Michael Ackalitis

It is often stated that no one likes change; it makes people move out of their comfort zone. But when the College of Staten Island announced it would be transitioning from NCAA Division III to Division II, everyone was immediately excited. This move would help the College’s overall plan as well as enhance the student athlete experience for all participants. Through all the excitement there were a few questions that immediately came to mind:

  • What does this mean for our current team members?

  • What does this mean for the future of the program?

  • What does this mean for me?

What does this mean for our current team members?

This was the question that brought many out of their comfort zones, but as most swim coaches will tell you, to be a successful swimmer (and even in some ways a successful coach) you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Swimmers can handle almost anything you throw at them; it’s in their nature. Just think of how they wake up before the crack of dawn just to be challenged with a tough main set to start their day, and then come back the next day wanting to achieve even more. This was one of those times; they didn’t sign up to swim at the Division II level but were excited for this new challenge.

The number one thing I knew that I didn’t want to happen was to have the current team feel slighted; they needed to be included in the process. It was important to me to have them understand that they are the foundation that is going to lead to a successful Division II future. I did this by explaining to them why the move was so important to the athletics department, the College as a whole and the entire Staten Island Community. Once they understood this and saw the vision ahead, they took huge amounts of pride and were more than excited for what was ahead.

What does this mean for the future of the program?

This was the most exciting part of the transition, thinking about attracting more recruits and being able to offer athletic scholarships to compete at a higher level. So what changes? To be honest, not much outside of the recruitment aspect has changed. If you have a season plan to be increasingly successful, you’ll continue with that plan, possibly fine tuning it when needed, whether that be with more yardage/faster intervals etc.. We have always run our program to model most other highly competitive swim programs, through practicing 6 days a week, having doubles multiple times per week, and strength and conditioning. Because of this, it made for a very smooth transition. We didn’t have to change the schedule or add practice days or times, which helped the mindset of the current team during this transitional period. If you have everything in place, the coaching will not change, no matter who you are competing against.

What does this mean for me?

Throughout this transition I have always said this was an automatic step up, being able to go from a DIII coach to a DII coach and having a chance to compete at a higher level. Now, two years into it I do not think of it that way. Don’t get me wrong this is an exciting time and a great opportunity, but in reality as a college coach my goals for the student athletes do not change: to graduate, to swim fast, and to be happy. If you accomplish those three things student athletes will look back on their time and be appreciative of their college experience.

This process has been a new experience, to say the least, but seeing how excited the team was to take on this new challenge makes it all the more exciting. Just two years in, we have laid a foundation for more to come and I personally can’t wait to see where we will go from here. #DolphinPride #FearTheFin

Michael Ackalitis is in his 9th season as Head Coach of the CSI Swimming and Diving Team, he graduated from Saint Peters College in 2010. In his first full year of his collegiate head-coaching career, Ackalitis was awarded the 2012-2013 CUNYAC Women’s Coach of the Year award. Following this accomplishment he took home his first CUNYAC title in 2013-14 in Men’s Swimming & Diving, the first championship for the program since 2004-05 and first of four in a row ending in 2016-2017. During this stretch he earned multiple CUNYAC Coach of the Year awards as well as standout swimmer Tim Sweeney earning several NCAA B time standards and the 2016-2017 CUNYAC Scholar Athlete of the year Award. In 2018 with a record breaking performance in the women’s 200 Butterfly all swimming and diving school records have been achieved under his leadership.

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