Lion country: how Emerson attracts student-athletes from all over America.

A+mens+lacrosse+helmet+bearing+the+California+Republics+flag.

Courtesy of Matthew Colombini

A men’s lacrosse helmet bearing the California Republic’s flag.

By Jason Tulchin

At Emerson, high school graduates from all over the country and the world come in droves to pursue their passions—and this variety is well-reflected in the school’s athletics program. Unlike its competition in the NEWMAC, Emerson doesn’t rely solely on local talent from Massachusetts to fill its rosters. 

For Matthew Colombini, head coach of the men’s lacrosse team, the Lions’ coast-to-coast recruiting was what first drew him into the fold.

“Part of the appeal of the job at Emerson was that I knew it was a national school and drew from kids all over the country,” he said. “The surprise for me was when [I] got going, and you’d hear from admissions, I didn’t really think California was the second-most represented state, and was at times the first-most represented state.”

Colombini’s words ring true—six of the 26 players on the men’s lacrosse team hail from the Golden State, making it currently the most represented state on the men’s lacrosse team. A line can be drawn to the state’s long-standing prevalence in the Emersonian population, with California being with the second-most populous student body at Emerson. With one of the largest communications programs in the country and a campus in Los Angeles, Colombini says, the “West Coast connection” is strong.

“Our majors definitely connect with a lot of industries out west in particular, whether it’s film or television or other communications,” Colombini said. “That’s another natural draw, where stereotypically Northeast kids might be more on the business or economics track […] if you’re an athlete and you want to get into film no matter where you’re from, you look at [NCAA Division III] schools with the best film majors, that list is not very long, and we’re at the top of it all the time.”

Men’s volleyball Head Coach Ben Read echoed Colombini’s analysis.

“More than half our guys are [Visual] Media Arts Production guys,” he said. “The school recruits for people who are interested in film.”

Lions have come from all across the country to join the pride in the heart of Boston—surprisingly few from the Bay State itself. Only two current men’s lacrosse players hail from Massachusetts. This is true of the entire athletics program, where Bay Staters claim just 11 spots across women’s soccer, softball, men’s volleyball, and baseball. Compared to the compositions of other NEWMAC competitors like Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Clark University, who have many more Massachusetts-born players, Emerson’s quirks stand out. Fifteen states are represented on the Lions’ men’s lacrosse team alone—apart from California, there are players from New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Connecticut.

To recruit at the national level, a school needs a nationally-ranked curriculum. And when it comes to academic appeal, Emerson can spike a hard ball: the college is ranked seventh-best in the U.S. for film, eleventh for journalism, and seventh-overall in the U.S. north. Paired with its location in downtown Boston, it attracts aspiring athletes, whether they be from Chicago or Santa Clarita.

“A lot of our majors are nationally ranked,” Read said. “There’s [also] only so many schools in the country to have men’s volleyball in a major city.”

By recruiting student-athletes from all over the country, coaches can draw on a wide range of perspectives and experiences—which can be both an asset and a challenge.

“There’s different playing styles, [but] we can get everyone on the same page to go ahead and compete,” said Read. “Some coaches are really strict about training certain things a certain way[…] we do have a way [that] we want to try to do things at the same time. There are multiple ways to hit a ball—if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, but we do try to constantly improve and go from there.”

Colombini also noted humorously the subtle clashes that came with coaching lacrosse athletes from different backgrounds. Often, he said, athletes came with a slightly different playing style and unheard-of slang that would get lost in translation. The biggest shock for athletes from the West and South, however, was the cold.

“There’s a lot of little stuff that if you weren’t from the Northeast, you wouldn’t think to do,” he said. “Like wearing latex gloves under your gloves when you play keeps your hands really warm. It’s mind blowing [to them] when they hear that.”

The geographic diversity of Emerson College athletics provides numerous benefits to the student-athletes themselves. For many of these young athletes, coming to Emerson provides an opportunity to leave their hometowns, explore new parts of the country and meet people from different cultures and backgrounds. This can be a transformative experience that would allow students to broaden their horizons, meet new people, and gain new insights into the world around them.

“It’s hugely helpful to the experience here,” Colombini said.”If you’re one of the guys from the Northeast, your roommate may be from California. And just the idea of like ‘I’m gonna go visit them for a week and go someplace I’ve never been before […] it’s a great way for people to build up their network of friends all over the place […] if I’m going to New York City, I’m going to know people. If I go to LA, I’m going to know people. If I’m going to DC, I’m going to know people.”

In line with Emerson’s values of inclusivity and community, the geodiversity of its student-athlete community is nothing short of expected. When students come from all over the country, they bring with them their customs, beliefs, and traditions. But at the end of the day, they’re all Lions.