New Athletic Director prepares athletics for continued changes

By Drew Ladner and Kevin Ahn

Colby Athletics is changing. It started with the construction of the Baseball and Softball Complex in 2015 and continued with an agreement to construct a new athletic center. Under Director of Athletics Tim Wheaton, the athletics department entered an exciting state of fluctuation. When Wheaton stepped down this past spring, the department was left to search for a new Harold Alfond Director of Athletics that would be willing to bring Colby Athletics to its next stage. The man they found was Jacob Olkkola, who is now the face of the many changes of the department.

Olkkola has some big plans in store for the school. Raised on the east coast, Olkkola has worked in higher education sports administration for a number of years. He started his career as an assistant coach for La Salle University before heading to Harvard University in 2003 to work on the administrative staff. In 2008, Olkkola and his wife took a step back from their careers to focus on their daughter. During this time they also moved to Maine, which he believes was a “great experience personally for [his] family.” Two years later, Olkkola accepted a position at the University of Delaware under their new athletic director. Much of his time at Delaware was spent managing sports teams as well as being the CFO for a period of time, which allowed him to oversee a lot of construction and project development at the school. The University of Delaware was undergoing changes “not unlike Colby in terms of where they were. They were at a real pivotal moment in the history of the institution…really investing in their facilities and revamping their athletic program to achieve higher levels of success.” When the Colby athletic director position opened up, Olkkola saw it as a tremendous opportunity to take the next step in his career.

This past summer, Colby unveiled three new fields behind the current athletic complex, while Rugby constructed a field behind Mary Low Parking Lot. Olkkola noted that “These facilities are game-changers. They are going to allow us to recruit some of the best and brightest student-athletes that are out there. They really give Colby an advantage…it really is just going to set Colby apart from all of our Division III peers when it comes to game day atmosphere and practice and competition space.”

The new soccer field remains grass, though of a much higher quality. The bleachers sit atop a manmade hill to allow for a better view. A smaller practice field sits beside the main one. This prevents players from tearing up their game field, which will hopefully lengthen the field’s lifespan.

Men’s soccer player Asa Berolzheimer ’20 commented that “Playing on the new field has been incredible. The grass is shorter, the ball moves better and the setting creates a crazy fun atmosphere. The new field gives you a sense of confidence and responsibility. We have one of the nicest fields in Division III athletics.”

With all these changes can come an adjustment period, however. While the new soccer field appears to be an upgrade, the new Synthetic Turf can be trying for a sport such as field hockey. The field hockey team played for the past few seasons on AstroTurf, a surface very conducive to the sport due to its flat surface.

Team member Kat Restrepo ’18 said that “The new stadium setup is exciting and looks really beautiful, that is without question. But in terms of the game of field hockey, it is a setback and there is really no other way to put it. It is a completely different game on this surface than on what most other NESCAC teams have: AstroTurf. The game is slower, less about finesse and more about muscling the ball down the field.”

These new fields were a necessary addition, as the new athletic complex will be constructed in their old locations. The fields that were once home to soccer, field hockey, and lacrosse have already been dug up and blocked off for construction. Colby plans to unveil the new athletic complex in the fall of 2020.

Colby is at a pivotal moment in its history. Thankfully, the College has a new Athletic Director who recognizes that and has a fitting vision for how Colby Athletics will look in the future. When asked about his plans Olkkola stated “if you look around this campus there are so many amazing things happening. I mean, world-changing things happening. The academic curriculum that has been developed here in terms of trying to address some of the bigger challenges that we face in the world. Comprehensive Excellence is a phrase that we have used a lot in these early days and months of my arrival and it really is to say: ‘Look we want athletics to be worldclass like so many other things that are happening on this campus.’…We really want to say that athletics is part of the co-curricular experience in the education of our students. It provides tremendous life skills to our students and we want it to be in alignment seamlessly with the rest of the College.”