Whether they are gung-ho college basketball, baseball or volleyball fans, Concordia University Irvine students welcome moving up to the big league – National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II.
“It’s cool to be part of a school that’s in a legit tournament,” said Ben Haight, a senior who’s majoring in sports management. “It’s pretty prestigious. It’s even better for resumes to be part of a prestigious school that’s a Division II athletic program, especially since I’m trying to enter the world of sports as a career.”
Watching CUI’s soccer teams score last-minute goals or volleyball team win their conference this past year, there’s a great feeling of ‘yeah, that’s my school’ that goes along with it. -Jonathan Ilten, CUI sophomore
Haight, a die-hard basketball fan, started playing basketball when was young and said he has followed it passionately at all levels ever since. “I’ve been basically born and raised to love basketball,” he said.
Haight is a basketball coach at Orange Lutheran High School. He’s also a personal trainer for high school basketball players.
When he’s not involved with basketball, Haight works with the CUI softball staff keeping the scoreboard and game stats for online reporting.
CUI sophomore Troy Makalena was attracted to CUI because of its sports management program and because it is a small school, compared to larger campuses. He likes having smaller class sizes and more one-on-one time with his professors.
However, as a NCAA Division II school, Makalena said people will begin to see CUI as a small school with big athletic programs.
“As a small university, it gives us more of a name, and people will see we’re not just a small school, but that we have better athletic programs,” he said, adding, “and that helps with recruiting and drawing more students to our university.”
Makalena, who played volleyball in high school in Honolulu, is a big volleyball fan. He said NCAA D II membership will be especially good for CUI’s men’s volleyball team.
It’s great for us. It’s good for publicity, showing our beautiful campus, and letting Concordia’s brand be known as a school that has good athletics but even better spirit and better character. -Ben Haight, CUI senior
“We have a small men’s volleyball team, so it will be really good for our men’s volleyball. They’ll get to play top name volleyball teams,” Makalena said.
Jonathan Ilten agreed playing under the Blue Dot will bring CUI more publicity and attention. Well-deserved attention, said Ilten, a sophomore majoring in business administration with an emphasis in sports management, and minoring in communications.
“This school is an incredible place, but outside of our campus, in Orange County, even in the city of Irvine, you’ll find people who aren’t familiar with CUI. Being such a small school, we’re not necessarily a ‘household name’ or have the general recognition that schools like UCI or Cal State Fullerton have,” he said. “Moving to D II, however, and seeing articles written about us in the LA Times and ESPN covering our conference’s basketball tournament on our campus, more and more people are becoming familiar with CUI and what we’re all about.”
Ilten said he is pleased to see CUI get the recognition it deserves.
“This is important to me because I love this school, and I want to see it succeed and grow as much as possible in all aspects, be it athletics or arts or academics or so on. The increased success and increased public exposure of Concordia’s athletic programs mean success and exposure for the university as a whole,” he said.
Ilten is a big college sports fan. His dad introduced him to “March Madness” when he was about 6 years old, and he’s been hooked on men’s basketball ever since. He’s gained an even greater appreciation for college sports since being at CUI.
“The best part about college sports is the emotion and passion involved, both from the players and the fans. The athletes are either competing in order to compete professionally one day, or competing because they still can compete in the sports that they love. Either way, the result is the athletes pouring their hearts and souls into their game and not being satisfied with anything less than success.
“From the fan’s perspective, especially fans who attended the university they root for, there is an incredible amount of pride that comes along with seeing your school’s teams succeed. This is something I never fully understood until I became a college student myself.”