One Team All Green

Top Ten Moments of the Decade for UVU Athletics

It seems like every news outlet is producing a moments of the decade article. It is a trend and many people like trends. So, I figured I would get in on this business. To be honest, I sought the help of UVU Associate Athletic Director of Communications Clint Burgi. It’s not that I haven’t followed UVU athletics. It’s just that prior to starting as a student at UVU in the Fall of 2014, I really didn’t follow UVU up to that point. I hate to admit that I was a BYU fan through and through. Just ask women’s volleyball coach Sam Atoa. He will tell you that I actually had the audacity to wear a BYU hoodie to an interview with him. Crazy, right?

But, as I began writing for the UVU Review, interacting with coaches and players, and members of the athletic department, something changed. I began to love UVU athletics and I now bleed green. If you don’t believe me, just ask my wife. My closet is full of UVU gear and on the majority of trips we take, I usually have one or two of my UVU shirts with me. 

And the cool part about it all, is that I have seen some amazing moments over the last 5-plus years. I have seen two coaching changes for men’s basketball. Been to the NCAA Wrestling Championships where something amazing happened for a UVU wrestler. I was there both times UVU men’s basketball played at Kentucky and nearly won. When the UVU softball team pitched a no-hitter at BYU in the Spring of 2015, I was there. It’s been a blast and one I hope to continue. There are a great deal of storylines taking shape within the UVU Athletics Department and it’s time to get on the bandwagon. 

So, let’s start with the Top Ten Moments of the Decade for UVU athletics.

10. NUVI Basketball Center

Labeled as “one of the best practice facilities in the WAC” by then-Athletic Director Vince Otoupal, the NUVI Basketball Center gets the nod on this list. It’s a 14,500-square-foot facility that was funded entirely by private donations and sponsorships. It includes the Travis Hansen Strength and Conditioning Center and 8,000 square feet of court space, named after UVU great Ryan Toolson. The NUVI Basketball Center opened for use September 13, 2017.

9. A Pair of Marks Take Over Men’s Basketball

There was a buzz surrounding the UVU men’s basketball team when Mark Pope was introduced as the men’s head basketball coach following the 2014-15 season. And why not? A new face that was energizing in his press conference and said that he was going to help UVU accomplish a bunch of firsts. And, in his four seasons, Pope did that. UVU went from a sub-300 KenPom ranking to a school-record No. 91 ranking in 2018. Add in that UVU won the most games in program history in 2018-19 (25), and it was a good run for Pope.

And as soon as Pope bolted for BYU, then-interim athletic director Jared Sumsion made a big splash with the hiring of Mark Madsen. The Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach has some big shoes to fill. But the charisma, the work ethic, and the ability to develop players is there for Madsen. And who can forget those famous dance moves? Perhaps Madsen can do the one thing Pope couldn’t: win the WAC Tournament and earn the auto bid to the NCAA Tournament.

8. Romero Becomes First Big 12 Champion 

If it weren’t for the fact that there are a few bigger stories to tell, this one might take the cake. But, the 165-pounder rolled through his weight class to become the first Big 12 Conference champion in UVU wrestling history. Romero finished the season 28-5 and was one win away from earning All-American status at the NCAA Championships. 

7. 32 Straight Wins but No Love from the NCAA

It’s pretty sad that when a team wins 32 straight games, that some still don’t respect them for the accomplishment. This is what happened to the 2012 UVU baseball team. The Wolverines finished 47-12, won 32 games straight in the middle of the season and finished a perfect 28-0 in conference play. But it just wasn’t meant to be as the Wolverines got snubbed from the NCAA Tournament. UVU had three All-Americans that season in Goose Kallunki, Billy Burgess and Austin Heaps. But, it was to no avail. One of those things that not many baseball teams have ever been able to do but yet, the Wolverines got no love from it either.

6. Kjar, Rauser Earn All-American Status

I’m going to be honest. I love the UVU wrestling program. Yes, I know, I know. I don’t write about it as much as say, basketball. But I love this program. What these guys, as individuals, accomplish is amazing.

Jade Rauser has his hand raised following a win that made him just the second All-American in UVU wrestling history. Courtesy of Brooke Morrill.

And after watching Nationals the past four years and also attending one, I give a lot of respect to what Ben Kjar and Jade Rauser accomplished. Kjar was a Cinderella story at the 2011 NCAA Championships. And he played the part. Kjar made it all the way to the semifinals before falling to eventual national champion, Anthony Robles of Arizona State. Kjar earned All-American status by finishing fourth, the first UVU wrestler ever to do so. 

Five years later, Jade Rauser earned All-American honors, as well. And he did it in a crazy way. Rauser lost his first match and had to win four straight matches to accomplish his goal of getting on the podium. And with about a minute left against No. 6 George DiCamillo of Virginia, it didn’t look like things were going to work out. But Rauser, got a takedown, and four-point near-fall and then another two-point near-fall as time expired to earn All-American status. 

5. UVU Baseball Wins WAC, Earns Trip to NCAA Regional

I was in the mountains at my wife’s family’s cabin and when we came out on Monday morning, my phone was blowing up. UVU had won the 2016 WAC Tournament and was going to the NCAA Tournament in Baton Rouge. Talk about a crazy run. Led by a senior-heavy group, the Wolverines went undefeated and knocked off Seattle to earn its first-ever trip the NCAA Regional. While the Regional didn’t go as planned, winning the WAC Tournament sent shockwaves through the athletic department. It is actually part of the reason One Team All Green was started. 

4. Men’s Soccer Begins at UVU

Imagine over 5,000 fans attending a soccer match in the state of Utah. Outside of Real Salt Lake, it doesn’t happen often. Well, on August 30, 2015, in the first-ever NCAA Division I men’s soccer match at Clyde Field in Orem, that is exactly what happened. And UVU and first-year head coach Greg Maas didn’t disappoint. The Wolverines beat the Minutemen 5-1 to start a 9-7-2 campaign in the first season. 

Since that time, the Wolverines have earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament, won a WAC regular season title and defeated a handful of ranked opponents. UVU has also had an All-American as Paul Hoffmeister earned the honors following the 2016 season. We should also mention that a former Wolverine won the Lou Groza Award for the nation’s best placekicker and is now kicking for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL. We see you, Matt Gay.

3. Championship Decade for Women’s Soccer

Four championships in 10 seasons to be exact. Not bad. Not a lot of other schools can say they have accomplished that. But under former head coach Brent Anderson, UVU won three conference titles. UVU won the 2011 and 2012 Great West Conference titles and won the 2015 WAC Tournament title. The 2015 title earned the UVU women their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. 

Current head coach Chris Lemay came in with a bang, leading UVU to the 2017 WAC Tournament title in just his first season. The Wolverines were a few inches away from giving Lemay his second title but fell to Seattle in the 2019 Championship match.

2. Men’s Basketball Wins Regular Season Title in First Season as WAC Members

So, there are only two teams not named New Mexico State who have won a WAC title since the 2013-14 season. And yes, UVU is one of those teams. The Wolverines shocked the world in their first season in the WAC and won the regular season title. Ben Aird, Holton Hunsaker and the rest of the Wolverines played to perfection during the championship run. The Wolverines finished 13-3 in WAC play and ended up playing in the NIT after they lost to Idaho in the WAC Semifinals. And who can forget the postgame brawl between UVU and New Mexico State? It’s what made winning the WAC even sweeter. 

1. UVU Joins the WAC

On October 29, 2012, life changed for UVU Athletics. Then-president Matthew Holland put on a white hat with the WAC logo and announced, “today, we are elated to place Wolverine athletics officially under the WAC Banner.”

UVU made the jump from the Great West Conference to the WAC official on July 1, 2013.

The move to the WAC ensured UVU athletics competes in a conference that holds automatic bids to NCAA postseason tournaments. And its been a pretty good run for the Wolverines since. Multiple conference championships in women’s soccer. Dominance by the cross country and track and field teams. Men’s basketball has a conference championship as does men’s soccer. And numerous All-Americans over the years. By competing in the WAC, teams schedule more high-profile opponents and potentially upset some of those opponents. It is a move that give the UVU athletics brand a bigger platform. 

Honorable Mentions

Men’s basketball hits 18 3-pointers to beat BYU 114-101 in the Marriott Center in 2016. 

Bailey Moore tosses a no-hitter as UVU softball shuts out BYU at Miller Park in 2015.

Matt Findlay’s electric win helps UVU wrestling knock off Oklahoma in a Big 12 Duel.

Tyler Brown returns to the soccer pitch after suffering gruesome injuries sustained in accident.

Austin Buxton returns to the soccer pitch after battle with cancer.

Toughest 24 Hours in college basketball at Kentucky and at Duke on back-to-back nights.

There are a lot of other great stories over the decade. Like it was mentioned, numerous All-Americans have been named. Michael McPherson is a two-time All-American in the decathlon. Trac Norris is an honorable mention All-American in the steeplechase. Jake Toolson and Isiah Williams are both honorable mention All-Americans. Jace Brinkerhoff (2010), Chris Benson (2011) and Goose Kallunki, Billy Burgess and Austin Heaps (2012) are All-American baseball players. Add in track and field speedster Nick Taylor along with UVU wrestlers Ben Kjar and Jade Rauser and you have a pretty impressive list. 

I love this university, these teams and what these student-athletes give on a daily basis. These are just a few of the biggest moments of the past decade. Now, a new chapter starts and it’s time to write some more amazing moments over the next ten years. 

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