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Summer 2009 | Volume 32, Number 2 | Athletics

A New Chapter for the Falcons

Eight years and three visits to the Final Four later, the Falcons take the NCAA title


Erin O'Connell, SPU athletic director
A former member of the University of Washington crew coaching staff, Erin O’Connell now leads one of the nation’s finest NCAA Division II athletics programs.

A national search for athletic director revealed an exceptional talent that was already on campus.

After eight months of on-the-job training in an interim capacity, Erin O’Connell was hired in March 2009 as Seattle Pacific University’s new head of the Athletics Department. She was selected from a large pool of candidates after a comprehensive, nationwide search.

“Building on the legacy of accomplishments of our coaches and athletes, and the great leadership of Tom Box as athletic director for the past 10 years, we are opening a great new chapter for SPU athletics,” says President Philip Eaton. “Erin has earned this opportunity. She brings experience, passion, and real vision to the job. “

O’Connell is the school’s 10th athletic director and the first woman to serve in that position since Seattle Pacific began sponsoring intercollegiate sports in 1946.

“I’m excited to get started,” O’Connell says. “SPU has great staff and coaches, and a tradition of excellence that I hope to continue.”

O’Connell worked for five years as Seattle Pacific’s assistant athletic director for compliance, also serving as the senior woman administrator, before being named the interim athletic director. She succeeded Box, who was promoted last July to the position of vice president for university advancement. Box returns to SPU’s advancement team, where he previously worked 13 years managing the campus development staff before beginning his term as athletic director in 1998.

O’Connell will oversee an NCAA Division II program that sponsors 14 intercollegiate sports. In each of the last four years, the Falcons ranked among the top-30 schools in the prestigious Directors’ Cup that recognizes the nation’s best overall athletics programs. SPU finished 25th in the NACDA's Division II rankings — its third overall top 25 finish.

While in her interim capacity, O’Connell supervised a prolific period for the Falcons. The women’s soccer team captured the 2008 national championship and both basketball teams advanced in the NCAA Tournament. Women’s distance standout Jessica Pixler won three individual national titles.

The Falcons excelled in the classroom as well. Each team had a composite grade point average that exceeded 3.0 in Autumn Quarter with a combined GPA of 3.33. Nearly half (86) of SPU’s student-athletes were honored on the Dean’s List, and 22 achieved perfect 4.0 GPAs.

A native of San Francisco, O’Connell received her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Washington in 1996. She completed her master’s degree in sports administration at Seattle Pacific.

Prior to working with the Falcons, O’Connell spent seven seasons as an assistant coach with the University of Washington’s women’s rowing team. She coached the Huskies varsity four to three Pac-10 titles between 1999 and 2001. She was a coxswain on three conference championship crews as a student-athlete from 1993 to 1996.

The new SPU athletic director currently serves as chair of the NCAA Division II women’s rowing championship committee and also chairs the Great Northwest Athletic Conference management council.

“The last eight months served as a great trial run for me in the athletic director’s chair,” O’Connell explains. “This has been my ultimate goal. I never realized that it would be happening so soon. But I’ve gained experience with committee work and have been blessed by working with great people, and that has prepared me to take on this challenge.”

—By Dan Lepse
—Photo by Daniel Sheehan

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Department Highlights

A New Chapter for the Falcons
SPU hires Erin O’Connell as its first woman athletic director.

Seasons of Achievement
Falcons highlights were many this year, including individual national titles and a coach moving on.

McCrath Honored by National Soccer Coaches
Cliff McCrath inducted into the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame.