When Traci Murphy was introduced to the Daemen College community last year as the new director of athletics, she shared her philosophy about intercollegiate athletics — college sports programs are an avenue to student-athletes developing into the best versions of themselves. Her appointment came at a critical juncture for the department, which is now progressing through its fourth full year as a member of NCAA Division II.
“The opportunity to lead the Athletic Department of the only NCAA Division II institution in the Greater Buffalo area was something I could not resist,” said Murphy.
Successfully making the transition into her first director of athletics role, Murphy has drawn upon 25 years of experience in intercollegiate athletics. She has risen through the ranks as a certified athletic trainer, director of compliance, and, most recently, as associate athletics director and senior woman administrator.
While her appointment at Daemen represents her first professional role at the Division II level, Murphy is no stranger to the division. Having competed as a swimmer during her undergraduate career at West Chester University, her well-rounded experience as a Division II student-athlete helped shape her views on how best to lead the Athletic Department.
At the time of her appointment, Murphy said, “I am excited about working with the college’s talented student-athletes, coaches, and administrators. Together, we will take athletics’ impressive record of academic achievements and competitive success to new heights.”
This statement has proven to be prophetic as Murphy’s hiring has served as the catalyst for arguably Daemen’s finest year of athletic success since transitioning to NCAA Division II. Several teams have experienced unprecedented levels of success.
Last fall, the Daemen women’s soccer team went 3-1-1 down the regular-season stretch, ultimately qualifying for the East Coast Conference (ECC) Championship tournament. It marked the team’s first-ever postseason berth since making the Division II transition.
The Wildcats posted an 8-8-1 overall record and a 5-4-0 conference record. It marked the team’s most conference wins since joining the ECC. Although their season came to an end with a 4-0 loss in the conference semifinals, the team’s success has spearheaded their efforts moving forward, according to head coach Dan Dolan.
“Getting a little taste of what the postseason is like at the Division II level has been a driving force for us in our offseason training and it will continue to motivate us moving forward,” said Dolan, the program’s all-time leader in coaching victories with 88. “It has left us hungrier and wanting more, which is exactly what you want to see as a coach.”
In another fall sport success, the Daemen women’s volleyball team executed a magical run en route to a 21-11 overall record and their second NCAA tournament berth. The Wildcats won 13 out of 14 conference matches, capturing their second ECC regular-season championship. As the league’s top team, Daemen earned the right to host the four-team conference tournament, and they went on to win the ECC tournament crown.
The Wildcats played in the East Region Championship portion of the NCAA tournament, and although they fell in the opening round, the season proved that Daemen women’s volleyball has staying power.
“We feel like we are really building a program that can have longlasting, sustained success at the Division II level,” said head coach Stephanie Albano, a two-time ECC Coach of the Year recipient. “The Daemen and Western New York volleyball communities have really shown great support for our program.”
Together, we will take athletics’ impressive record of academic achievements and competitive success to new heights.”Traci Murphy
As fall turned to winter, the Daemen men’s and women’s basketball teams made some incredible memories.
For women’s basketball, the Wildcats won 14 of their final 15 regular season games and had an 11-game winning streak, their longest as an NCAA program. They finished 18-10 overall, marking the team’s most wins in a season since the 2012-13 campaign.
“I’m very proud of our players and staff for all of the hard work they put into this record-breaking season,” said head coach Jenepher Banker. “We played a very difficult non-conference schedule and were still able to record the most wins since Daemen went to Division II. In addition, we earned the program’s first-ever NCAA regional ranking.”
For men’s basketball, the team has achieved the second-most victories of any Division II program in New York State over the last five seasons. This year they reached new heights. The Wildcats found themselves vaulted into the national conversation as they were ranked among the top 25 teams in the country a combined 16 times between the National Association of Basketball Coaches and Division II Sports Information Directors of America national polls, rising as high as No. 10.
The Wildcats went on to finish 24-6 overall, achieving their most victories at the Division II level. They clinched the program’s second ECC regular-season championship, and the team was granted an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, a first in team history. They would go on to fall in the opening round of the East Region Championship, but a foundation for future success has clearly been laid.
“It was a surreal experience to say the least,” said veteran head coach Mike MacDonald, the 2018-19 ECC and NABC Eastern District Coach of the Year. “Just five years ago, we were not eligible for the NCAA tournament. And now, we’ve built our program to a point where we have gone to the NCAA tournament and have been nationally ranked. It was a fun ride, and one that has us ready for future challenges.”
There have been other marquee performances and important happenings along the way. Amber Custodi of the women’s triathlon team competed in the collegiate national championship race for the second straight year. Daemen’s newest varsity programs – cheerleading and men’s volleyball – competed in their inaugural seasons. e cheer squad went a perfect three-for-three in competitions, winning first place honors in all three events that they participated in. Also, Daemen student-athletes posted their 11th consecutive semester with a collective GPA of 3.0 or higher.