Conlan Center Celebrating 20th Anniversary

The Sister Samuel Conlan Recreation Center has been the catalyst for an exciting transformation on campus the past 20 years.

  • From Dominican College to Dominican University of California
  • From Hanify Hall, a.k.a. The Barn, to a 35,000 square foot state-of-the-art gymnasium and recreation center
  • From NAIA to NCAA Division II athletics competition

Now, to honor the 20-year celebration of the Conlan Center, Dominican is inviting all alumni to return to campus for a special commemorative event on Saturday, February 22, with an Open House in Conlan Center from 4-5:30 p.m. followed by a reception before the Penguins' women and men's basketball games against Pacific West Conference rival Azusa Pacific. The women's game starts at 5:30 p.m. followed by the men's game at 7:30 p.m.

All former student-athlete alumni, former coaches, and former athletics directors will be recognized in on-court ceremonies at halftime of the two games.

The Open House/Basketball Doubleheader highlights the #ConlanTurns20 weekend beginning Friday, February 21, with the alumni men's basketball game and continuing Saturday with a Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCAL) non-conference match on Kennelly Field at 11:30 a.m. between Dominican and Boise State University. The #ConlanTurns20 weekend celebration continues on Sunday, February 23, with a Dominican match vs. San Diego State University at 1 p.m. and concludes with a softball alumni game around the Penguins PacWest doubleheader with Holy Names starting at 2 p.m. on Penguin Field.

The Conlan Center was officially dedicated on April 29, 2000 – the night Dominican announced its name change from Dominican College of San Rafael to Dominican University of California.

Named in honor of Sister Samuel Conlan, Dominican’s fifth president and retired professor of English, the recreation center was the first new campus building in 37 years. It was built as part of a $20 million “Building Tomorrow Today” campaign.

Though dedicated with a grand gala on Reunion Weekend, the Conlan Center’s first athletic event was on February 18, 2000, an NAIA men’s and women’s basketball doubleheader between Dominican and Patten College. Then President Joseph Fink tossed the ceremonial opening tip-off, Andy Strohmeier ’00 scored the first basket, and the Penguins’ men’s team notched a victory in front of a capacity crowd.

Nicknamed “The Igloo,” the Conlan Center lists its bleacher seating capacity at 1,285. Total seating capacity, including floor seating, is 2,098.

That’s a far cry from the tiny confines of Hanify Hall, which only had enough room to accommodate three rows of wooden bleachers. Leased from the Dominican Sisters, “The Barn” was the practice site for Dominican men’s and women’s basketball teams and women’s volleyball team, yet the Penguins played all their home games off campus, mostly in gymnasiums at Marin Catholic High School and College of Marin.

Still, despite their antiquated practice facility and lack of a legitimate home-court advantage, the Penguins prospered, particularly the women’s basketball team. From 1992-1996, the Lady Penguins won 71 games. In December 1993, they were the No. 1 ranked team in the nation in the NSCAA. For three consecutive seasons, they qualified for the NSCAA national tournament.

“In essence, women’s basketball was establishing a culture of winning and success that Dominican hadn’t experienced before and they were leading the way and that built the momentum when it came time to do a strategic plan for the entire institution,” said Bill Fusco, Dominican’s athletics director from 1991-97. “That’s when the rec center idea came up.”

In its first full season, the Conlan Center hosted the California Pacific Conference Volleyball and Basketball Championships. Dominican welcomed Cal State Stanislaus to the first-ever on-campus volleyball match in Conlan on August 29, 2000. The Penguins went on to win the 2000 CalPac volleyball tournament on its home floor, going undefeated (13-0) in league play to win the league title for the second year in a row. The Penguins, who earned bids to the NAIA regional tournament in 1994 and again in 1999, were coached by Susan Huffman and one of her assistant coaches was her husband, Jared. A former U.S. National Volleyball Team member (1987) and three-time All-American, Jared Huffman is now a U.S. Congressman.

Dominican’s basketball teams also enjoyed success in Conlan’s early days. The Penguins’ men’s basketball team won four consecutive CalPac Conference regular-season titles from 2002-06 and back-to-back CalPac tournament championships in 2004-05. The Penguins’ women’s basketball team won both the CalPac regular-season championship and tournament title in 2005.

In 2009, Dominican left NAIA and the CalPac to join NCAA Division II and the Pacific West Conference. The Conlan Center now is headquarters for the Penguins’ 11 NCAA intercollegiate sports, the Allen Sports Club, Dominican Recreation Sports, and Dominican Summer Sports Camps.

The Conlan Center has hosted numerous one-time-only events aside from athletics, including Graduate Student Commencement ceremonies in the mid 2000s, the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) on April 12-14, 2007 and various career fairs and “Relay For Life” walkathons.

Dominican’s Institute for Leadership Studies’ Spring Lecture Series staged an event in the Conlan Center on April 27, 2010, featuring then Oregon State University head men’s basketball coach Craig Robinson. He was promoting his book, A Game of Character: A Family Journey from Chicago’s Southside to the Ivy League. The book was a tribute to his family, which includes his older sister, Michelle, the First Lady of the United States and the wife of the 44th President of the U.S. Barack Obama.

On Saturday night, March 19, 2011, Associated Students of Dominican University (ASDU) hosted a concert in Conlan Center featuring rapper/actor E-40.

On Sunday afternoon, September 18, 2016, Dominican’s Penguins Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (PSAAC) hosted a Hawaii-themed Make-A-Wish Foundation Reveal for a four-year-old Marin County boy with cerebral palsy who was granted his wish to head to Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa in Ko Olina.

In October of 2017, following the devastating North Bay wildfires in Santa Rosa and Napa, the Conlan Center served as the staging area for about 200 American Red Cross staff and volunteers to assist in relief efforts.

Last March, the Conlan Center hosted the PacWest Basketball Championships for the first time and Dominican’s women’s basketball team capped a historic season by receiving the school’s first-ever bid to the NCAA Division II tournament.

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