Much has changed since Greg Warzecka became UC Davis‘ athletics director 13 years ago.
A non-scholarship school when Warzecka arrived at the university, UC Davis is now entering its second Division I campaign – and the Aggies have wasted little time in making an impact at collegiate sports‘ highest level.
Warzecka recently sat down with Aggie Sports Editor Adam Loberstein to discuss everything from UC Davis‘ first Division I season to upcoming facility renovations and the newest Aggie sport.
What UC Davis did in its first year competing on the Division I circuit was pretty remarkable. With the long transitional process finally in the books, what was it like to see Aggie teams compete – and compete very well – at the Division I level?
To a certain extent, I think it was a bit surprising, to be honest with you. I think we had all worked very, very hard for four years.… Getting through the four-year cycle, and then finally being eligible for NCAA playoffs in [2007-2008], we were excited, but we didn’t know exactly how the teams would do.
A lot of those teams did just fine. Men’s soccer becoming the first Aggie team to qualify for the NCAA Division I Tournament, women’s and men’s water polo finishing fourth and eighth in the nation, respectively, baseball’s run through a competitive conference to the NCAA Tournament – what stands out?
What men’s soccer did was great. They got so close to beating Cal and moving on in the playoffs. I think a great success story is – well, all of them – but baseball competing as well as they did in the Big West Conference, which is a really powerhouse conference, and knocking off Stanford as many times as we did [laughs]. Then beating Stanford in the regional playoffs and scaring them half to death, and then seeing them advance to the [College] World Series. That was all really positive stuff, and we’re proud of it.
Which teams do you see making that kind of an impact this year that may not have a season ago?
It was a tough time for men’s basketball – a very, very tough sport in Division I where institutions have lots of resources and spend lots of money on men’s basketball. We were in a transitional period where we redshirted a few players. Now, they are all eligible. Having come off a European tour just recently, they’re feeling really good about themselves [laughs].
I also see a young softball team from last year maybe making their mark this year. And then volleyball with the hiring of Jamie Holmes getting off to a 6-1 start. You’re going to see that program excel.
Can you talk about the kind of student-athletes UC Davis attracts to its campus? How has the level of talent changed with the transition to Division I?
We’ve always had great students, and we’re going to continue that emphasis. Regardless of talent, great students are going to come here and study at UC Davis and get a chance to compete.
But I do think that the talent level is better, and it’s more suited to a Division I competitive schedule.… There’s no doubt that the talent level is changing, but academically, they’re great students doing well here in school.
Fresno State head football coach Pat Hill was quoted in the Sacramento Bee saying, “I wouldn’t be surprised if one day … UC Davis [is] in the WAC with us. That’d make a lot of sense.” What do you think about Hill’s comments?
A lot of things will change in the next three to four years, and I can’t predict exactly what they’ll be.… Clearly, I appreciate Pat’s comments, but what we all have to realize is that football can’t just switch into the WAC. You have to take your entire athletic program into the WAC. Right now, the Big West is a really good fit for us for a lot of sports. They have strong aquatic sports, they have strong spring sports, and, right now, the WAC is not as strong.
Then there’s the whole hope that maybe UC San Diego would make the move from Division II to Division I. Then suddenly you’d have five UC’s in one conference. It’s not going to get much better than that [laughs].… It makes more sense to create some rivalries and build conference relationships with other UC campuses. It makes a lot of sense.
We saw UC Davis‘ first football game under the lights earlier this month. What facility renovations are next in line?
We’re currently trying to raise money externally to put the soccer teams under the lights for the same rationale that we needed the lights for those teams competing in the stadium. In August and September, the soccer team faces the same thing – playing on a Friday afternoon when it’s 104. We lose fans. If we play Friday night at 7 p.m. in soccer, we really feel we’ll generate a greater fan support.
And it’ll be a better atmosphere for students to compete in. It may be 85 degrees versus 100 plus. Then during the school year, it saves them a loss of class time. That’s a big priority for us.
UC Davis will introduce its 27th Division I sport next season in women’s field hockey. What’s that process been like?
It’s been fun. It’s exciting. I think that’s what UC Davis is all about – providing opportunities for men and women to compete at the highest level. To have 27 sports, we reflect well on that image – just like Cal with their 27 sports, or UCLA with their 26 sports. I think we should all be proud of the fact that we have 27 NCAA Division I sports here in Davis.
We’re going to hire a coach here shortly and start putting together a schedule. The coach will start recruiting in October and November, but most importantly, we have to build a field [laughs]. We have to get that location resolved probably in the next 60 days.
Following an exciting first year of Division I athletics, what should Aggie fans expect to see this season?
I think there’s going to be some great excitement with the rivalries in the Big West Conference. We’ve got six home games – five left – during football season. This is an exciting football team with an explosive offense.… Greg Denham’s going to be an exciting quarterback to watch. For students on campus, the atmosphere and the beauty of that stadium is something to behold. I would hope that a lot of students would take this chance to use free admission to come to the games [laughs].
And then, boy, men’s and women’s basketball are really looking forward to an exciting year. We’ve got a great schedule put together for both of them. I think that just our increased size and athleticism in men’s basketball is going to be exciting. If I can use the slang term, we got big in a hurry.
ADAM LOBERSTEIN can be reached at email@example.com.