In Search of a Little Spirit

UCSD has academic talent galore. It’s consistently ranked in the top-20 best universities around the globe because of its excellence in research and collaboration on the international level. The CEO of GoPro is a UCSD alumnus and so is famed director and Academy Award winner Benicio Del Toro. We have students at the top of their fields in the classroom, but the classroom isn’t the only place to excel here at UCSD.

What many students tend to overlook here on campus is the student-athletes, who not only excel in their academic field but on the playing field as well. There are banners on campus that proclaim “#1 in Division-II Sports,” but few students seem to acknowledge our strengths outside of academics.

RIMAC Arena has enough seating for 5,000 spectators, yet for the past several years, average attendance at basketball and volleyball games has been less than 20 percent of that number. Triton Ballpark is equipped to seat 1,000 fans; Triton Soccer Stadium can hold 1,250. The average number of seats filled at baseball and soccer games isn’t much higher either — both stadiums see only about 25 to 30 percent of those spaces filled at any given game.

If we consider who’s spectating at athletic events, we see an even grimmer picture of how underrated and under-supported sports at UCSD can be. How many of the people in the crowd are parents? How many of them are fans of the opposing team? Factor in those numbers, and we realize how few students actually show up to games.

So what are the reasons behind this? The excuse of not having the time comes up often enough — UCSD is a prestigious university, and it has the rigorous and challenging curriculum to prove it. Once midterms roll around, students tend to hole up in the library or at home in their rooms, nose in book, trying to adequately prepare.

Is this really a sufficient excuse, though? Freshman softball outfielder Kendall Baker is one who can turn that kind of reasoning on its head. In her first year alone, the player has tackled 20 hours of practice per week and has still maintained a near-perfect 3.90 GPA.

“I think what sets all student-athletes apart is the work ethic required to succeed and make it through each day,” Baker told the UCSD Guardian. “Between classes, practices, weights, meetings, studying and tests, it truly is a test of time management and dedication to get everything done and still remember why we love what we do. At UCSD, the rigorous academic standards and competition make that even more of an accomplishment.”

Senior Annahita Haghighi is no different — the communications major has been taking upwards of 20 units per quarter and has committed to the requisite 20 hours of practice time for rowing. Her GPA sits at a perfect 4.0.

On occasion, I’ve heard a flat statement of “our sports teams suck,” but this simply isn’t true either. For the past eight years, UCSD has been number one on the National Collegiate Scouting Association’s Power Rankings for Division-II Programs. The Power Rankings take a few different factors into account: graduation rate, U.S. News and World Report rankings and Learfield Director’s Cup ranking. UCSD placed at 14th, 37th and 13th, respectively, in 2014. Average the three out, and we get a solid 21 as our “power score,” leading the rankings by a huge margin. 2014 second-place Hillsdale College had a power score of 54 — 33 points shy of the Tritons’ comfortable position at the top.

In 2014, we finished 13th in the Learfield Sports Director’s Cup out of 246 Division-II programs, and we’ve won five of the past nine California Collegiate Athletic Association Commissioner’s Cup titles. Both titles are symbolic of the best athletic department that Division-II has to offer.

Our NCAA and CCAA titles also speak for themselves. Since the birth of Triton athletics, our teams here have captured over 220 national, regional and conference titles. We’ve won 30 championships, 43 runners-up titles and 47 third-place honors at the national level. We’ve also had 138 individual national champions, and 1,210 of our athletes have been named to All-American teams.

“A lot of people are doing really amazing things in a variety of disciplines. However, it just happens that our national community tends to find a camaraderie in athletics,” senior track and fielder Anneke Kakebeen said. “It provides something rather uncontroversial that a group of similar people can get behind and form a community around even if they aren’t directly participating.”

If we look at schools like the University of Southern California and UCLA, we find that this is definitely the case. UCLA just had a record-breaking year for student attendance at athletic events — basketball games alone saw over 6,000 fans per game. With over 30,000 graduate and undergraduate students at UCSD, we should have the same capability to fill seats at games. Now, it’s just a matter of building team spirit by rallying our fellow students together outside of academics for a change.

“If, over time, the student body can rally around athletics as a binding agent, it will not only connect students to each other but also to alumni, as well as other universities, through friendly competition,” Kakebeen said. “I’ve seen University of Kansas fans in bars on Mission Beach cheering for Jayhawks basketball games on a screen together. Increasing that athletic coverage and building that network is valuable because of how it brings people together.”

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