Columbia teams and athletes are winning. This was the message conveyed on Monday evening, as University President Lee Bollinger hosted members of the swimming and track teams at the his home in an event that honored successful Light Blue athletes, including members of the 2012 Ivy League champion women’s indoor track squad.
“We’ve been trying for years to make the athletic department truly competitive in the Ivy League and even nationally in some sports,” Bollinger said, emphasizing that the athletic department has made progress in recent years.
Among the athletes honored were members of the 2012 Ivy League champion women’s indoor track squad. When the team captured its title in February, it marked not only a first for the women’s program but also Columbia’s first championship in the track program as a whole.
“It’s just a big step forward for our program—we get a lot more respect from other teams now,” senior pole vaulter Sarah Engle said.
Given Columbia’s lack of a winning tradition in basketball and football, Athletic Director M. Dianne Murphy said, winning titles in other sports could provide an important boost to the overall reputation of Light Blue athletics. “Success breeds success,” she noted, “and if you’re really paying attention to what our teams are doing, we’re having a great spring in all of our spring sports.”
The tendency of teams to feed off of each other’s success and energy is especially visible in track, according to senior middle distance runner Kyle Merber. “Historically, the way it’s always been is, like, if the women have a great meet, the guys have a great meet. If the guys have a great meet, the women have a great meet,” Merber said.
The success has extended to some Columbia programs, but others have not performed well. Tennis still has a chance at an Ivy Championship, and the baseball team has a winning record in the Ivies with several impressive victories under its belt. At the same time, some programs have still had difficulties this spring: Women’s lacrosse has failed to win a single conference game.
Despite some programs’ improvement, Bollinger said, there’s still a need for the Light Blue to be competitive in marquee sports.
“Obviously we have to do better at football,” Bollinger said, adding that he is “very optimistic” about new head coach Pete Mangurian’s ability to turn the program around.
But Bollinger also noted that the strengthening of the all the University’s sports programs—not just football—could help the greater Columbia community.
“It’s important to win,” Bollinger said. “It’s important for the University. It’s important for the students.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that softball had not won a conference game. Softball is currently 6-10 in Ivy play. Spectator regrets the error.