Quality wins, not just games, needed

There was a time just going to the game, being in a packed arena, feeling the atmosphere, was enough.

No more. My needs are greater, the standard higher. I need to be courtside, on the field, as close as I can get to the action. I have to hear post-game comments, unfiltered, straight from the source in raw emotion.

Has my fledgling writing career already ruined my innocent enjoyment of the game? Is my ability to sit back and take pleasure from a sporting event no longer within reach? Probably.

Ironically, UVU’s athletic program can empathize.

Following the volleyball team’s four-set loss to the Slovenian national team last week, I ran into UVU director of athletics Mike Jacobsen. I have to give credit where credit is due. I don’t know his birthdate, but it’s safe to say Jacbosen is one of the older fans in attendance at the games, and he’s there more often than not. That’s after a full work day of athletic director X’s and O’s, meetings and headaches. In other words, the Wolverines aren’t just a business for Jacobsen. He’s invested in them.

With that in mind following the Slovenia game, I asked him if he was excited about all the big-name programs making the trip to Orem. Wasn’t he thrilled that Michigan, Syracuse and Miami felt Utah Valley University was worth a slot on their respective schedules?

I expected excitement from the man who obviously cares about the program. Instead he gave a sobering response.

“It’s nice, but winning would be nicer,” Jacobsen said. “Eventually we’re going to need to win if these games are going to mean anything.”

That’s how far UVU has come. Being an NCAA program isn’t enough anymore. It’s not enough to get consolation prize games against big teams. The Wolverines need to win, make noise and show they can be a competitor and not just a player against prime-time opponents.

“Playing these programs is great for us,” volleyball head coach Sam Atoa said. “People need to know who Utah Valley is.”

Knowing is one thing, respect is another. The ugly truth is it’s hard to take a Great West Conference school seriously until they start beating clearly superior teams. So far volleyball has beaten Illinois State but lost to Northern Arizona and Slovenia heading into their showdown against Michigan. Women’s soccer fell short against Wyoming and Miami.

Between them volleyball and soccer still have dates against Utah, Baylor, Idaho, Syracuse, Air Force and Kansas State. Winter and spring sports will have their shot on the big stage.

Utah Valley, however, no longer looks at those games as acts of mercy to give them exposure and harsh lessons before conference play. The Wolverines want respect, an AQ conference berth and national consideration. They are playing to win.

It’s about time.

 

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