Stephens College is adjusting well to its new athletic affiliation.
“It’s really been a smooth transition,” said Dane Pavlovich, the Stars basketball and volleyball coach, said. “It’s been a situation where we had a lot of things in place and ready to go before we heard the official word.”
After changing to NAIA from NCAA Division III on April 14, the Stars have seen two major changes.
First, Stephens will no longer compete in soccer because the team had no place to practice and play. Pavlovich said the team sometimes practiced in a yard on campus. NAIA rules let its members play in as many sports as they choose, but NCAA Division III requires its members to maintain five sports over three seasons.
“That was becoming difficult for us,” Athletic Director Deb Duren said. “We now can play less than five sports, and we can choose the sports and sports seasons in which we wish to compete. So, more flexibility in NAIA.”
The Stars will continue to compete in basketball, swimming, tennis and volleyball. In their first year in the NAIA, they will not be eligible for postseason play.
“It’s going to take us a while to get us to where we need to be,” Duren said. “But, there is a lot of time in your provisional status.”
Stephens also has received increased attention from a broad range of athletes because the switch enabled the Stars to award partial athletic scholarships.
“We had a pretty good list of student athletes who were interested in the program,” said Pavlovich, a chief recruiter. “Basically because of the NAIA and we can offer some scholarships, we became on their lists.”
So far, Stephens has awarded scholarships to about 15 students, including four returning basketball players, Pavlovich said.
The basketball team will play in NAIA Division II, which limits the number of scholarship to six. Division I programs offer 11. The Stars, though, will have 11 new basketball players: six from Missouri, four from Kansas and one from Tennessee. Last year the team went 1-18.
“It might take a year or two for the program to see some changes,” Pavlovich said. “But, we, at least, will have better representation on the team.”
Although NCAA Division III prohibits athletic scholarships, Pavlovich said he has scouted players since August, one month after he got hired, mainly targeting athletes from Missouri and surrounding states.
“We weren’t sure what we were going to do at that point,” Pavlovich said. “As (the switch) became more and more apparent and as we applied, then obviously we continued keeping on targeting students athletes we had. And, let them know what our process was, what our situation was.”
Pavlovich said Stars’ athletes need to focus on academics first and then be dedicated to improving in sports. Duren said Stephens’ recruiting motivation is different from nationally ranked schools.
“Truthfully, winning is not that much important thing to us,” Duren said. “The most important thing to us is to provide these young women an opportunity to continue to play sports that they do well.”