On Dec. 12, Hofstra will travel down to Cameron Indoor Stadium where head coach Speedy Claxton and Co. will face off with the Duke Blue Devils for the first time in program history.
Ultimately, the groundwork for the unique relationship between these two program’s was laid well before Claxton’s arrival on campus back in 1996.
Mikaela Ryan, Duke’s chief of staff and administrative assistant to head coach Jon Scheyer, is a Long Island native, a Hofstra graduate and somebody who was enthralled in the Hofstra athletics community.
“I grew up at Hofstra,” Ryan said. “Many of my fondest memories are like when the Hofstra basketball team won the America East Championship at home [in 2000]. I was so young but I still distinctly remember, and it’s one of my favorite memories.”
Ryan’s connection to that 1999-2000 squad, which featured Claxton, runs through her father Terry Ryan, a long-time athletics administrator at the University and an inductee into the schools Athletics Hall of Fame for his role under Jay Wright.
“When I first came to Hofstra, I was asked to be on the staff with Jay Wright so that’s how I got introduced to [Hofstra athletics],” Terry said. “Since all my kids were young, they’ve been coming here and got to see a couple championships. I think the excitement was such a part of their lives.”
Thus, when Mikaela had to choose a college, her father’s role at Hofstra and her passion for the community made the decision an easy one.
“When it came time to choose a school, I looked at one other school and I wasn’t even sure why I bothered,” she said. “Hofstra’s where I grew up, and that’s where I was going to go. It was really a no-brainer for me.”
As a member of a sports-centric family, Ryan always knew she wanted to be involved in athletics, but when a high school knee injury derailed her own personal aspirations, she was forced to look in another direction.
During her time at Hofstra, Ryan was a Business Management major and kept developing her professional relationships with the athletics department, which offered her the chance to move head first into collegiate athletics as a student.
“I told [the people I’d grown up around] that I wanted to work in college athletics but didn’t really know what avenue I wanted to go in yet,” Ryan said. “They told me to really take advantage of it and dive all in, which I did.”
First working as a sports facilities assistant, Ryan had the opportunity to help plan, facilitate and market the numerous special events and varsity sports throughout the University for three and a half years.
After Ryan’s graduation, she was given the opportunity to join the athletics department at Duke in Feb. 2016. Initially working as a game operations manager, Ryan started out in a similar role to her previous one with the Pride.
However, in 2021, Ryan was presented with an exciting promotion to chief of staff. This afforded her the chance to be hands-on with the men’s basketball team and work directly with Scheyer when he was promoted to head coach in 2022.
According to Ryan, this next step allowed her to reunite with the Hofstra community through a new connection with current Vice President and Director of Hofstra Athletics Rick Cole, Jr.
“I wasn’t at Hofstra when [Cole] was there, but his daughter Mackenzie Cole played volleyball [at Duke],” Ryan said. “So me, Rick, and his whole family, we’ve all become really close because they would come down here to watch her play. So that’s been really cool - to still have a connection with the athletic director [at Hofstra].”
While a matchup between her current athletics department and her alma mater was something Ryan had long envisioned, it always felt just out of reach.
That is, until her relationship with Cole began to take shape.
“[Cole and I] talked about [a Duke-Hofstra matchup] for a few years actually, and it never worked out with scheduling,” Ryan said. “I didn’t want to put any pressure on anybody either, but this year I passed [a request] along as I’ve done for the last few years, and all the dates seemed to have worked out.”
While it would be tough to point to any similarities between the two programs, Ryan was quick to notice a few.
“I think there’s a lot of similarities between the two programs,” Ryan said. “I’m so fortunate to have worked with so many incredible people at Hofstra and at Duke, and I feel like they’re both so family-oriented. I think that’s special because I know not [every athletics department] is like that, and I feel like that’s a really cool connection.”
Claxton echoed the family-oriented sentiment and said his relationship with the Ryan’s has been forged since his playing days.
“[Terry’s] my guy,” Claxton said. “I speak to him weekly, so I knew Mikaela from when she was very young. They’re like family. I love his whole family, and I appreciate everything that they’re doing and have done for me.”
As for the action on the court, Claxton understands the weight of an opportunity to take on a national power.
“Those are the games my kids get up for,” he said. “It’s great for the University to play a program like Duke, who has such a huge name, because if we pull off the upset, it’s gonna make national headlines.”
To extend the connection between Duke and Hofstra, Mackenzie joined the Duke volleyball coaching staff as an assistant. For Ryan, having someone else with deep ties to the Pride in Durham has made this occasion even more special.
“I’m just excited for [the matchup] to happen this year,” Ryan said. “[It’s] two programs that have really meant so much to me, so it’s really cool to see it all come together.”