A Successful, Sustainable Athletic Future: How Tiger ExCCellence Fuels CC’s Student Athletes

“We’re helping grow leaders who are set up for life. Leaders who have been battle tested. Leaders who have been part of a team.” 

That’s how Lesley Irvine, Vice President and Director of Athletics at Colorado College, describes the lifelong impact of the CC athletics experience. 

And, it wouldn’t hurt to win some championships along the way.

Over the last fiscal year, more than 700 donors gave a combined $366,000 to support CC’s varsity athletic programs through the Tiger ExCCellence initiative.

But what is Tiger ExCCellence, and why is it important? 

In creating and branding Tiger ExCCellence, Irvine set out to elevate CC’s varsity athletic programs, provide resources to support competitive excellence, and equip student-athletes with the experience and drive to graduate, go out into the world, and change it for the better. 

When Irvine began her tenure as athletic director in 2019, she focused on refining CC’s athletic giving brand, then called the Tiger Pride Fund. As Matt Kelly, Director of Annual Giving, puts it, “When Lesley became the AD, our fundraising in athletics became much more strategic.”

Irvine’s intentionality has paid off. Kelly reports that donor numbers and dollars have notably increased every year since Irvine has held the post.

Irvine details Tiger ExCCellence as a fund dedicated to equipping CC’s student-athletes with “the tools and resources needed to chase championships.” That doesn’t just mean top-notch coaches, mentors, and training facilities –– it means mental and educational support as well. “This is about promoting a culture,” she says, a championship-winning culture driven by holistic care.

Megan Koch ’22, a recent track and cross country alum who also served on the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, speaks to the importance of college athletics in her personal development. “This is the first environment where I felt as though I was transitioning out of the student role in my life into being considered as more of my own independent representative,” Koch says.  

That is, it’s the environment where she learned to be an adult. 

“Athletics,” Koch reflects, “prepared me for professional conversation, for productive communication… I learned that success is so directly correlated to what you put in.”

That’s precisely what Irvine is aiming for: athletics as an avenue for development, as the game-changer in a young athlete's life. She wants Colorado College Athletics to have the positive impact it had on Koch, for everyone. Creating a supportive sports community takes time and love — and, realistically, money. That’s what Irvine is trying to deliver with Tiger ExCCellence: “a successful, sustainable athletic future.” 

Jeff Conarroe, head coach of the men’s basketball team and CC alum, reflects on varsity athletics’ place in the Colorado College community, saying, “I see athletics as co-curricular, rather than extracurricular.”

Conarroe views CC’s liberal arts curriculum as an essential asset to its sports teams, and vice versa. Time on the court, he explains, functions “almost as a lab. You take the tools you learn in the classroom and on the Block Plan, and you execute them in real time.” Quick thinking, decision-making, and analysis — they’re all present in CC’s classrooms, and they are certainly present in Reid Arena on game day. 

In President L. Song Richardson’s inauguration address last fall, she shared four pillars for the college that will help guide CC’s priorities and decision-making in the coming years. One pillar focuses on “visibility,” or elevating the profile of Colorado College and its extraordinary students, faculty, staff, and alumni. It’s about pursuing excellence in every area of the CC community — from the classroom to the research lab to the field of play — and driving awareness of what makes CC unique.

For Conarroe, CC student-athletes and teams are central to this priority because athletics can serve as a “front porch… for the institution.” If the hockey team goes to the Frozen Four or swim and dive goes to NCAA Championships, CC will gain more visibility on a national level. “Interest in the school will go up,” says Conarroe. “That adds value to our degrees.” 

And CC’s student-athletes have been showing up. This past season, both the women’s and men’s cross country teams won the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) championship — that’s the second and fourth consecutive year for each team, respectively. Women’s basketball posted a regular season record of 18-7 — its best since 1981 — highlighted by a victory against then-undefeated and No. 1-ranked Trinity University. Men’s basketball sported 12 wins this season — the team’s best since 2018. As for swimming and diving, both finished second in the 2023 SCAC Tournament.

Women’s soccer qualified for the Mountain West Championship Tournament for the first time in five years, and men’s hockey advanced to the championship game of the 2023 National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Frozen Face-off, narrowly missing a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

When donors invest in Tiger ExCCellence, they are helping CC’s 400 student-athletes maximize their potential by funding travel to tournaments and championships, elite-level equipment, and maintenance of the college’s state-of-the-art facilities. 

Tiger ExCCellence isn’t just about cultivating school pride, though — it’s about supporting individual student-athletes. It’s about their professional and personal growth. “We just get opportunities to provide educational experiences other DIII programs don’t,” explains Conarroe, “and that’s because of the excellence fund.”

For instance, Conarroe plans an educational trip for his team once a season. Last year, he brought them to the César Chávez National Monument in Keene, California, and met Chávez’s son and grandson. This past fall, they went to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

Donor support makes transformational opportunities like these possible — equipping student-athletes with skills and life experiences that will serve them on and off the playing field. 

For CC student-athletes, says Conarroe, the athletic experience is a “critical piece of the education process.” To support Tiger ExCCellence — to have a direct hand in constructing the essential infrastructure for CC Athletics — is to compete alongside the Tigers. 

And, as Irvine says, “all the while, we’re chasing championships.”

To make a gift to Tiger ExCCelence in support of CC’s varsity sports programs, click here.
Report an issue - Last updated: 04/03/2023