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Former Loper athletes reflect on conference change

The football team started the 2012 campaign with seven losses before winning three out of their last four games. File Photo

A conference change was monumental for UNK’s sporting programs, but it was also a transition for the athletes. The Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association offered tougher competition, new playing styles and different travel schedules which the athletes at the time had to adjust to.

The tougher competition didn’t scare away former volleyball libero Kaleigh Zoucha, formerly known as Kaleigh Anderson when she played for the Lopers before getting married. 

“I think there were a lot of people who didn’t expect us to go in and do super well in that conference,” Zoucha said. “I just remember being excited to go prove that wrong.”

Many athletes were looking forward to the shorter drives in the MIAA compared to going as far as 20-hour drives to New Mexico in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. For the basketball teams, the schedule changed from Friday-Saturday games to Thursday-Saturday games, making the weekend longer and keeping athletes out of school an extra day. 

The athletes persevered through less time in the classroom with flexible professors.

“That was a benefit of UNK, I was fortunate enough to have teachers who were understanding,” said former men’s basketball player Mike Dentlinger. “We still had to do the work and put in the time, but it certainly didn’t affect our grades. We had to bring along our schoolwork onto the bus, but as long as we managed our time there weren’t really any issues.”

UNK’s players got used to seeing the same faces in the RMAC year after year but had to start scouting new teams and playing styles in the MIAA. 

“RMAC was predominantly heavy run,” said former Loper football safety Pete Kropp. “Then you switch over to MIAA with a lot more passing and throwing the ball around. Fifth-year senior quarterbacks, faster receivers and bigger linemen. The teams across the board had a lot more talent and a lot more size.”

 The Loper football team went 10-2 in its final RMAC season in 2011-12. UNK then went 3-8 in the first MIAA season with five different starting quarterbacks due to injury.

“We knew we were kind of limited on the offensive end with injuries and things like that,” Kropp said. “We were just kind of outgunned. Once our solid core of starters got worn down throughout the game I think the other teams had a lot more depth.”

UNK’s men’s basketball team went 16-12 in its final season of the RMAC and 7-19 in its first season in the MIAA.

“We knew it was going to be a more competitive league top to bottom,” Dentlinger said. “We definitely underestimated it. It was just a difficult switch getting used to the play.”

The UNK volleyball team went 32-2 in its last year in the RMAC with a conference championship win over Metropolitan State. They kept that momentum the next season with a 35-3 record and a victory over Central Missouri in the MIAA championship.

Although it was a tough experience switching competition levels, many athletes said they  still felt the benefits of competing for the Lopers. Playing and coaching at UNK allowed Zoucha to learn many things that are now helping her as a coach at Valdosta State.

“The fact that we played in two different conferences, it was something that kind of helped me because I’m doing new experiences all the time,” Zoucha said. “I’m playing new schools down in Georgia. I’m really thankful for my time at UNK.”

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GRANT TIGHE, Sports Editor
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