Today @ Colorado State has been replaced by SOURCE. This site exists as an archive of Today @ Colorado State stories between January 1, 2009 and September 8, 2014.

Sports / Recreation

For the love of the game

January 7, 2009

For some people, the notion of playing club sports in college conjures up visions of weekend volleyball games with burgers cooking and participants having more fun than worrying about winning or losing.

Such is not the case at Colorado State, where club sports have become synonymous with high-level success. Last spring, baseball team members showed just how serious they were by winning yet another national championship.

“We have a lot of students who come here with the desire to play sports at a competitive level, and our programs give them that opportunity,” says Marsha Smeltzer, associate director of sports programs. “You really see the love of their sport in these athletes.”

Smeltzer should know. She spent many years working in intercollegiate athletics, serving as CSU’s senior women’s administrator in the athletic department before moving over to the club sports program.

Variety of 27 sports

While some funding for CSU’s 27 sports programs comes from student fees, club sport athletes have to foot much of the bill for uniforms, travel, hotels, meals, and even coaching salaries. In addition to attending classes and practices, many club sport athletes have to work to earn the money to pursue their passion.

“I’m continuously amazed at what these students accomplish,” Smeltzer says. “They have jobs, they have late classes, and very often they can only make one or two practices a week. And yet they still accomplish phenomenal things in their sports.”

Baseball has set the standard

Baseball has set the standard for club sport success at CSU. The program has brought home four of the past five National Club Baseball Association national championships, establishing itself as the nation’s dominant club.

After making it through a tough series, the third-seeded Rams won the 2008 title by knocking off No. 1 Penn State 5-1 in a championship game at Fort Myers, Fla. CSU took an early lead over Penn State and held on behind the pitching of Cooper Liggett and the hitting of left fielder Brian Dilley, who was selected the tournament’s most valuable player.

“Once we got going, we knew we were going all the way,” Dilley says. “Winning the championship was indescribable. It was such a great feeling.”

National power

The Rams became a national power under the direction of former coach Frank Gonzales, who pitched for CSU when baseball was still a varsity sport. After Gonzales led the Rams to back-to-back national titles in 2004-2005, he was replaced by Mike Abernathy, who won a championship in his first season in 2006, then added a second crown in 2008.

Abernathy said the key to the club’s success is attention to detail. “I try to run the program the same way a Division I program is run,” he says. “Our practices are tough and organized, and our players are committed to getting better. They don’t just show up when they want to.”

The solid reputation of the program attracts high-quality players. Many, like 
Dilley, had scholarship offers to play at the Division I or Division II level but chose to play for the Rams.

Women's lacrosse 2008 national champions

The women’s lacrosse team earned its first national championship last spring – the hard way, by knocking off perennial power Cal Poly. The Rams used a stifling defense in an 8-5 overtime win at Denver’s Invesco Field at Mile High.

“Cal Poly knew what it took to win a title, but we played really well and rallied when we were down,” says Diane Wilson, copresident of the club team. “It’s a sweet, sweet memory.”

The lacrosse team returns 16 of its top 21 players, including Lindsay Brown, the 2008 National Player of the Year.


- by Tony Phifer 

Originally published in Colorado State Magazine, Winter 2008-2009.