WATERVILLE — The career transition came as a bit of a shock to Michael Wisecup. Given where he was six years ago and where he ended up, it’s not hard to see why.

In 2018, Wisecup had just returned to the United States after 20 years as a U.S. Navy SEAL. Within 18 months of his return, he found himself as the athletic director of Colby College — a much different kind of leadership position, but one Colby’s president felt he could handle when the job opened up in fall 2019.

“I had been at Colby for more than a year, and the old athletic director (Jake Olkkola) had left to take a job at Johns Hopkins,” Wisecup, now 49, recalled. “(President David Greene) turned to me and said, ‘Mike, I know you don’t know much about college athletics outside of being an athlete yourself, but I do know you know how to run an organization.”

It was a position in which Wisecup would thrive in for five years, a tenure that came to an end last week following his resignation. The ex-Navy SEAL and commander has left the post for a career path closer to his former one as a defense contractor for Vannevar Labs. Colby has appointed Casie Runksmeier as interim athletic director.

With much of his family living in Maine upon his return stateside, Wisecup, who would settle in Freeport. accepted a fellowship position at Colby before becoming the college’s vice president for strategic initiatives. Then, after Olkkola’s departure after two years as athletic director, Wisecup was tapped as his replacement.

A big reason why? Well, Colby was developing its state-of-the-art Harold Alfond Athletic and Recreation Center, a $200 million project that was set to open in fall 2020. The school needed someone to keep that project rolling, and someone familiar with the school and organizational leadership made sense.

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“It’s tough to have a gap in your AD position in the middle of the season, and at the same time, you have that big project you’re in the middle of,” Wisecup said. “They needed somebody to get in there and stabilize it and get the department back on track. He left, and I walked right in there the next day and got started.”

The Alfond complex, though, wouldn’t be the only major challenge Wisecup would deal with in his first several months on the job. March 2020, of course, brought about the COVID-19 pandemic, something that threw the sports world for a loop everywhere from youth T-ball to the highest-echelon professional leagues.

Yet the COVID environment, while a shock to the system for just about everyone else, was one in which Wisecup was at his most comfortable. His background prepared him for a situation without clear guidance, and his inexperience as athletic director, he said, turned out to be a strength rather than a weakness.

“Crisis management is something we go through in the military, and this was a crisis that wasn’t entirely unfamiliar in terms of how you manage it,” Wisecup said. “We had to rethink college athletics from the bottom up, but for a guy who had no preconceived ideas of the job, I just had to think through, ‘OK, what makes sense here?’ We never canceled college athletics; we didn’t play because everyone else canceled against us.”

Colby athletics enjoyed some remarkable highs during Wisecup’s tenure, making its first ever NCAA tournament appearance in baseball (2024) and women’s hockey (2023) and making three straight national quarterfinals in women’s lacrosse (2022-24). Colby produced a school-record 23 All-Americans in the 2023-24 athletic year.

“I think the thing I’m most proud of is creating a culture in the department where every individual can do their best,” Wisecup said. “It’s just time for something new. In the military, we change jobs every two years, so this is the longest job I’ve ever had. My father passed away in April, so that was a chance for me to reflect, and in May, this new opportunity came up.”

Runksmeier, Colby’s deputy athletic director since January 2022, replaced Wisecup on an interim basis July 1. She was previously the associate athletic director at Mitchell College (New London, Connecticut) as well as the head softball coach at Daniel Webster College (Nashua, New Hampshire) from 2014-17. She played college softball at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.

“As deputy athletic director, I oversee the majority of our department and our day-to-day operations, so I would say the same things I would (normally) be doing in July, I’m doing right now,” Runksmeier said. “We’re trying to tackle our preseason for fall sports, our welcome-back week for our department staff and trying to get ready for our first games to start in a little over two months.”

A search for a full-time athletic director is currently ongoing. Runksmeier did not give a precise time table for the position to be filled, adding that the department would “take the time (needed) to get the right person in the seat.”

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