Hartwick College

Dozens of Hartwick College students, many of them international, will be losing their athletic scholarships because of the school's decision to cut NCAA Division I programs announced Wednesday.

The fall 2018 transfer application deadlines for many colleges are in early March, so the announcement left students scrambling to get in, or to recover what aid Hartwick will offer them in lieu of D-I money.

The men's soccer program, once among the best in the country, will be demoted to Division III effective next fall, and women's water polo is being cut completely. Division III men's tennis has also been cut.

The women's water polo team voiced anger on Facebook after the announcement, and told The Daily Star that a majority of its 25 members were international students who chose the school on scholarships to play water polo. Another 10 athletes were committed to join the program in the fall.

“I came here for water polo. I liked the team and enjoyed the program and coaches,” said freshman Lissa Westerman of California. She said she would like to continue the sport at another college and was distraught over the fall deadlines.

Team members said that coaches were notified by the administration just two hours before an email blast to all students, sent around the time that the teams received the news in person from athletic director Kim Fierke.

The letter to students cited inadequate facilities as a factor in cutting water polo, namely the pool having both a shallow and deep end and therefore being unsuitable for hosting NCAA tournaments.

The school pointed to the decline in performance of the men's soccer team, which has only reached three NCAA tournaments in the last 20 years, as a reason to demote the program.

The women's water polo team has fared better, with a 10-game winning streak this season helping it rise to No. 13 in the nation. The Hawks have a shot at the NCAA title in May.

“Now their plans are completely ruined because of this,” senior Katy McKenty of New Zealand said of the 18 underclassmen girls. Some of the other team members are from Hungary, Spain, Russia, Greece, Australia and Canada, she said.

Karen McGrath, head of Enrollment Management and Student Experience, said that the school would be meeting with the students losing athletic scholarships to encourage them to apply for additional aid from Hartwick and for need-based federal grants. She said that fewer than half of the 54 athletes on the D-I teams had athletic aid only.

“I think it would be an injustice if I lost my scholarship,” said junior soccer player Matt Morrish, who came to the school from Brighton, England. “It's really depressing. It even affects my parents because they don't know what's going to happen.”

Morrish added that government-funded British universities mean that some of the players affected likely don't have college savings to fall back on if other D-I teams don't pick them up. Some other players are from New Zealand and Scotland, and 12 of the 23 players are on athletic scholarships, he said.

The news came as a complete surprise, he added, mentioning that the team recently brought in an assistant coach from out of state.

Sophomore Tom Peabody, a defensive back for Hartwick's D-III football team, said that other teams are rallying around the D-I athletes, and that students will protest Friday on Frisbee Field.

“All we basically want is the chance to speak to the president and to the board of trustees, and the chance to fight for our program,” McKenty said.

Erin Jerome, staff writer, may be reached at (607) 441-7221, or at ejerome@thedailystar.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DS_ErinJ .

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