NJIT Joins the Atlantic Sun Conference

Karen David, Carly Berdan and Dana Schules, three menbers of the NJIT Women's Soccer Team, said being a part of a conference will lift the team's spirits.

NJIT has the smartest students in the state and now it will have the most athletic students in the state, said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka during a press conference today in which NJIT announced it joined the Atlantic Sun Conference.

NJIT didn’t find a place in the Atlantic Sun Conference: It earned it. 

With a win this winter over nationally-ranked Michigan, the NJIT Men’s Basketball team set in motion a juggernaut of publicity that put the university in the national limelight. The team finished with a 21-12 season and a place in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) semifinals.

Daquan Holiday, a captain of that team who graduated in May, said now that NJIT has a conference, the teams have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. And for his old team that makes all the difference.

“If you win your conference you are in March madness,” said Holiday, who recently signed a contract to play professional basketball in Germany in the fall. “And once you are in the tournament, the sky’s the limit. A smaller team can beat a big team, just like we beat Michigan. Joining a conference is a big deal, not only for the basketball team, but for all of the teams at NJIT.”

NJIT had been part of the Great West Conference but with its break-up two years ago the university’s men’s basketball team became the only Division I team in the nation without a conference. Some of the university’s other teams also were without a home. A total of 13 NJIT teams will join the conference, with competition to begin in the 2015-2016 school year.

And Karen David, a junior goalie on the women’s soccer team, is ready for that.  When she arrived at NJIT two years ago, the Great West Conference had just dismantled and her team was independent.

“Now we have something to play for, a goal to strive for, which is to reach the NCAA tournament,” said David, who majors in chemical engineering in the Albert Dorman Honors College.

One of David’s teammates, Abi Fakolujo, agreed. She said joining a conference will lift the team’s spirits.

“We worked hard these two years without a conference and it’s great to know that our hard work was noticed by the Atlantic Sun,” said Fakolujo, a senior who majors in Law, Technology and Culture.

NJIT President Joel Bloom said on this momentous day he had much to be thankful for, and many people to whom he owed thanks. But he reserved special thanks for those who worked hard to make this day historic.

“I’m proud of our student athletes,” said Bloom. “NJIT has many demanding courses and our student athletes work very hard. They maintain good grades and excel in sports. So to them I say thank you, thank you, thank you.” 

NJIT athletic director Lenny Kaplan said he too was most proud of the students who manage to excel both in the classroom and on the playing fields. NJIT’s athletes have an average GPA of 3.1, he said, while 65 percent of them make the dean’s list and 20 percent of them attend the elite Albert Dorman Honors College at NJIT. "It has been an almost 10-year journey to find the right conference home for our teams," said Kaplan, "and I am excited that the Atlantic Sun is that home."

NJIT Men’s Basketball Coach Jim Engles said he has been an emotional wreck the last few days, waiting to see if NJIT earned a place in the sun -- the Atlantic Sun. Even his family was swept up in the emotional drama, said Engles.

“Yesterday my sixth-grade daughter left a class and went to the principal’s office to call her mother and ask if we got into the conference,” recounted Engles. “It’s been an amazing year for our team and now we have a bright future. The team brought the NJIT community together by beating Michigan and helped us get into this great conference. I couldn’t be prouder of our athletes.”

By Robert Florida (robert.florida@njit.edu)