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UCCS baseball team set to host first game in program history

February 16, 2017 Updated: February 16, 2017 at 3:52 pm
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Players participate in the first UCCS baseball practice at Security Service Field on Tuesday, September 6, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

After more than a decade of work behind the scenes, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs baseball team will host its inaugural home game in program history Friday.

Such program firsts will continue to be the norm as the school grows.

UCCS will play Nebraska-Kearney at 3 p.m. at Memorial Park's Spurgeon Field.

It's the latest result in a move from a smaller commuter school into a large-enrollment university with expanded athletics and on-campus residency and activities.

"(Students) want to watch baseball, lacrosse and basketball games and have more of a traditional campus experience," athletic director Nathan Gibson said. "There wasn't too long ago when we considered a commuter school that didn't have a lot of facilities and activities on campus. Now we have completely changed that."

Adding athletic programs is part of the school's sustained growth under retired chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak.

"Our chancellor always kept it in the back of her mind for its potential for growth in enrollment and the athletic department," Gibson said. "We have been talking for the past 11 years about what sports would be right to add and baseball has always been on the table."

Things got serious about six years ago. It became clear that it was something our students and the community really wanted."

The school announced the addition of baseball, along with women's lacrosse and the expansion of the track and field programs, in September 2015. The move keeps the school in compliance with Title IX requirements for equitable opportunities for men and women.

"We weren't going to put our toes halfway into the pool," Gibson said. "We wanted to take the time to have a full plan in place and have the resources in the program to get the right coach and (students). We are seeing early on some of the fruits of that labor (The team is 4-3)."

The school has grown in enrollment from 6,851 in 2001 to about 12,000 now. That was made possible by the 2012 master facilities plan that includes $300 million of new academic, performing arts and athletic facilities. A baseball field and indoor track and field facility are scheduled to open next season.

The school said an estimated 150 more students, some on partial athletic scholarships, enrolled at UCCS so they could compete at the NCAA Division II level in the Colorado Springs-based Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

"We are losing good students to schools that have these programs," Shockley-Zalabak said in 2015. "UCCS student-athletes have higher GPA's than the campus average and graduate at a higher rate. We need more students who perform at this level."

The baseball team has been embraced by the campus community according to Gibson. A number of athletes from Colorado are able to compete close to home.

"Adding sports gives you the opportunity to recruit a student that may not consider your institution otherwise," Gibson said. "That is a positive enrollment impact for sure that also fits in with a traditional campus."

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