With the end of the final quarter of the school year quickly approaching, now is the best time to review how our athletics programs fared this year. While not all teams improved on their records and performances from the previous season, athletics as a whole has been making strides in cementing itself as a growing force on campus. 

Since his appointment as the Athletic Director (AD) at the University of California Riverside (UCR), Wesley Mallette has been a driving force behind the culture change in the athletics programs. His vision the past few years has been built on five major goals: “Building a Strong Athletics Culture,” “Delivering a Great Student-Athlete Experience & Creating the Conditions for Student Success,” “Winning, Succeeding and Connecting,” “Creating a Model for Financial & Operational Sustainability and Competitive Excellence” and “Raising The Athletics Profile.”

UCR Basketball courtesy of Apollo_The Highlander

These building blocks have been the backbone of UCR’s intercollegiate athletics. Since several athletic programs faced elimination due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school has largely succeeded in improving the state of its programs. Men’s basketball this past season, while not as successful as the previous year, displayed great resilience and promise after the departure of arguably four of its best players from the previous season. 

Women’s basketball on the other hand had one of its most tremendous seasons with 18 wins and a trip to the National Invitational Tournament. It will be interesting to see how both basketball teams fare in the upcoming season with their roles reversed as the women’s team will be losing several key players and the men’s team has a chance to build with its young roster. 

While basketball is arguably at the forefront of the new and improved athletics department, several other programs have improved since the previous season. Baseball showed improvement while golf maintained their consistent play over the previous season. UCR Track and Field as well as Cross Country were strong performers in the Big West with several Highlanders placing high in tournament competitions and Norm Alvarez, Ashraf Abdelmagid, Raykiyat Olukoju and Kyan Thomas all qualified for NCAA Prelims in Arkansas.

UCR Baseball courtesy of Sumaya_The Highlander

Outside of just performance metrics there have also been strides in Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals for our athletes. Improvements in performance over the past couple of years has helped with NIL, and UCR sports slowly playing a part in the Inland Empire will continue to improve such deals, helping make UCR a destination when it comes to recruitment. These markers are already beginning to show themselves particularly in basketball as despite the departure of key players the recruitment has allowed the team from completely capitulating performance wise.

The athletics program has also been marked by its incredible coaches and staff. Several coaches deserve praise, chief among them being Mike Magpayo and Brad Langston, who have turned the basketball program around in the past couple of years. Great leadership has also led to academic success for UCR’s student athletes, which is another pillar of importance under AD Mallete’s vision for the athletics programs. The strides being made show signs of great promise if consistency can be continued which will no doubt lead to an elevation of UCR’s profile in the Inland Empire and California athletics as a whole.