The University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO) has finally made the transition from Division II to Division I over about a four-year period. The building of Baxter Arena has significantly enhanced the transition process and the visibility of the Omaha community. Recruitment numbers for hockey, basketball and volleyball have rapidly increased this year because of the new facility.
“When we put that first piece of steel in the ground we got verbal commitments from kids that were only 15 or 16 years old,” said Trev Alberts, Vice Chancellor of athletics at UNO.
When the recruits come and see a facility that is dedicated to the athletic department, coaches and administrators want them to see how serious they are about improving the university from an athletic standpoint.
“It’s not just about recruiting student athletes, it’s about recruiting students in general,” Alberts said. “The arena has really helped us with that.”
Men’s Ice Hockey
Throughout UNO’s athletic program and history, hockey never had a place to call home. The week prior to the game against Providence in the Frozen Four, the hockey team practiced in four different rinks.
“These poor guys have just been driving all over the town in order to practice,” Alberts said. “It’s a relief to finally give them a place to call theirs.”
The day the arenas construction began, hockey players began committing more than they ever had in previous years. The university is getting commitments from men that may not come here for another two or three years.
Some of the athletes that first commit are 5 feet 10 inches tall and are barely 160 pounds. Coaches are projecting them that in three years they’re going to be a 6 foot-2-inch player weighing at least 180 pounds. The coaches watch them overtime to track their progress and development.
Many hockey players at the age of 14 or 15 leave home and will go straight to the United States Hockey League. Other hockey players are recruited straight from high school to college hockey.
Avery Peterson, sophomore UNO hockey player from Grand Rapids Minnesota, went straight from high school to college hockey. This is unusual because most players play junior hockey first, but he was in extremely good shape and ready to go.
Alaska native Kris Oldham is currently playing for the Lancers in the United States Hockey League. He has committed to be the goalie with UNO after he finishes his time with junior hockey. Oldham is also a third round draft pick in the National Hockey League standing at 6 feet 2 inches and weighing 230 pounds.
“We really could of used him this year, but his best interest for him was to play another year in junior hockey and continue to mature and develop because he’s only 18 years old,” Alberts said.
Coaches have to decide based on the structure of the team what’s in the best interest of the student athlete when they bring them in.
Hockey is different than most sports when it comes to recruiting. When a player commits to a university, coaches don’t ever call him again. There is a gentleman’s agreement between everyone.
“That’s really the way it should be for the best interest of the kids. They made a decision, they don’t need people trying to change their minds and so that’s kind of cool about hockey,” Alberts said.
Sometimes when an athlete commits to a university, other schools start to recruit them even harder.
“Hockey recruiting and retention for student athletes is about as interesting and challenging as I’ve ever seen, but our coaches are pretty good at it. They know how the whole games works.”
Sophomore basketball player Vanessa Barajas said that the construction of the arena helped her choose UNO. The team had been impatiently waiting for the opening of the arena so they could play their first games on the court.
Barajas said, “It really helps recruiting because then athletes get to play in one of the nicest and newest facilities in the United States and it really shows a commitment to the sport itself.”
The women’s basketball team likes to take their recruits all around Omaha hitting it’s main hot spots like the zoo and downtown area. The coach makes sure each recruit gets Omaha’s full experience of what it would feel like to be a Maverick.
Both basketball teams have gotten to take recruits to the arena. Basketball has had their best recruiting classes yet this year.
Diane Banderas, senior volleyball player said Baxter has given the university an upper hand when it comes to recruiting. Banderas believes the facility is the best stage for volleyball in the Summit League and possibly in the entire National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Coaches have to determine the level of potential they see in the athlete first before recruits visit UNO for volleyball. Recruits typically will spend the day on campus and go through tours of the academic facilities, visit a player’s dorm room and sometimes get the opportunity to watch a practice.
“The arena has given us a competitive advantage that matches our team goals. Playing at Baxter makes you realize that UNO is starting to make some noise in Division I NCAA.”
Consider visiting the new arena to enjoy the entertainment:
- Maverick men’s ice hockey games
- Maverick men’s and women’s basketball games
- Maverick women’s volleyball
- Community ice rink
- Religious services
For more information visit http://www.unomaha.edu/athletics/arena/ for ticket and parking information or to find out about upcoming sporting and community events.
Baxter Arena prepares for the men’s basketball game against the University of California Santa Barbara.
The Mavericks move to defend their basket after their first score of the night against the Santa Barbara Gauchos.