UCCS athletics looks to continue success, student fan base

May 13, 2013

Jonathan Toman
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The 2012-2013 school year was one of the best in UCCS Athletic Department history.

It carried a list of accomplishments: NCAA President’s Award for Academic Excellence, nine regionally-ranked teams (the previous best was three) and three RMAC playoff games hosted at UCCS, to name a few.

But it wasn’t always like this. Prior to its past season, UCCS saw a total of three home playoff games in school history.

Athletic Director Stephen Kirkham, who came to UCCS nine years ago from Colorado Mesa University where he was the women’s basketball coach, recalled a time when UCCS was not a serious sports contender.

“We competed against UCCS at Mesa, and on the schedule you would kind of check it off as a win. And that was pretty true for all sports,” Kirkham said.

“The consistency across the board in the athletic program wasn’t there, but we are competitive in all sports now,” he added.

The men’s cross country team had one of the best seasons of all the sports, winning the Roy Griak Invitational in Minnesota and taking 11th overall at the national championships.

Head Coach Mark Misch put emphasis on how his team does things rather than the result.

“You want to have like-minded people working with you,” said Misch. “We keep it simple and apply it to everything; you don’t want to spend your energy on a prima donna.”

Looking ahead to next fall, Misch will have the biggest cross country team in school history at his disposal, with at least 28 runners, 16 of whom are returning.

“Every year is a different challenge with new leaders and experience levels,” said Misch. “We’ll go in having to prove ourselves again.”

“But it’s going to be exciting, I’m looking forward to it,” he added. “We got guys who are hungry.”

Head Coach Corey Laster and the UCCS women’s basketball team were another highlight from this year, going 19-8 on the season and hosting a first-round RMAC Shootout game despite key injuries throughout the season.

Along with new players stepping up, “We really improved in the offseason, our returning players, and upperclassmen got better,” Laster said.

Laster is optimistic about this upcoming season.”We talked a lot about being better than [last] year,” he said. “Our postseason work has mainly been on ball handling and our inside game to focus on getting stronger, both in toughness and strength.”

“I’m excited about the season, and we’re still chasing an RMAC championship,” Laster said.

In light of the commuter culture still prevalent on campus, Misch, Kirkham and Laster all agree that it is necessary for students to get out and support their teams.

“If people are reading this stuff as freshmen or new students,” Misch said, “the people on the team are very normal people. They work part time jobs, they don’t look any different, but they work hard and train every morning, and they’re just fun people to be around.”

“What are you doing to break your routine?” asked Kirkham. “It’s something you can buy into and hang out with your buddies. There’s only so many ways you can kill the bad guy in the video game.”

Laster said he thought UCCS athletics helps to bring the community together. “Athletics are a part of the overall experience for students,” he said. “It helps to tie in what being a Mountain Lion is all about.”

“Athletes are fellow students. You interact with them, and they represent you in a public type of way,” Laster added.

According to Kirkham, the future looks bright for UCCS sports teams.

“People in the conference used to talk about UCCS as the sleeping giant. Now we are a walking or strolling giant,” said Kirkham. “Next year can be even better.”