When Ryerson athletics director Ivan Joseph was hired back in 2009, he had a vision. That vision was to produce something the university had never really had in its past: a winning sports culture.
Six years later, Ryerson’s varsity sports teams are competing at levels they’ve never competed at before. The men’s soccer team made the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Final Four last semester, the men’s basketball team is ranked third in the country, the women’s basketball team entered the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) top 10 for the first time in school history and the women’s hockey team defeated two top 10 CIS teams (something Rams women’s hockey has never managed to do).
Joseph entered the school’s athletic department during what could be argued as a dark period for Ryerson athletics. The teams were struggling and unable to receive adequate funding due to poor performance.
However, Joseph says Ryerson’s teams have really taken a turn for the better during his time as the school’s athletics director.
“Clearly, we’re winning more of our games,” said Joseph. “Earlier this year, six of our eight teams were nationally ranked. When I came, only one team had a winning record. So you could say we’ve done what we’ve set out to do, which is to contribute to campus pride, as well as the university’s reputation.”
Even though the move to the Mattamy Athletic Centre in 2012 helped improve the athletic experience at Ryerson, Joseph says the success of the department goes well beyond the new facility.
“Our success comes from many variables working together,” said Joseph. “It’s about having those opportunities to train and compete, because that attracts the right coaches. The right coaches attract the right student athletes. And the right student athletes attract other good student athletes.”
This cognitive system has worked to convince coaches with proven track records and star athletes to come to Ryerson. Perhaps the best example of Ryerson’s progress is the women’s basketball team, led by head coach Carly Clarke.
Clarke has been with the university for three seasons and says the reason she came to Ryerson was because of the noticeable improvement in the university’s athletic program.
“What drew me to Ryerson was their teams were starting to make some noise in the OUA and CIS,” said Clarke. “From a branding perspective, there was clearly a priority put on athletics. When I was a player and came to compete against Ryerson, we had anticipated that that would be a win. That’s not the case anymore.”
Just a decade ago, the Rams didn’t have a recruiting staff, they didn’t have good training facilities and they lost a lot of games. Since then, the school has made a complete turnaround. Ryerson now has a newly renovated training facility and a support staff that includes a full-time strength and conditioning coach, full-time athletic therapist, full-time academic support and a nutritionist.
Rams women’s hockey head coach Lisa Haley says her philosophy is “winning the right way.”
“We want our student athletes to excel in the classroom and there’s a lot of resources put into that to make sure they have all the tools they need to do it,” said Haley. “When you look at the coaches we have now, everybody’s got lots of experience in a high performance environment. We’ve all won at different levels, and those are some of the biggest pieces Ivan’s brought to the table since he’s arrived.”
New sports clubs, better facilities and more funding have all led to Ryerson becoming a physically active school, not just in varsity sports, but as an entire student body.
As Lisa Haley put it: “The athletic department has become the heartbeat of the campus.”
This story also appeared in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on Feb. 11, 2015.