Sunday, March 6, 2016 | 2 a.m.
When it comes to collegiate athletics, the landscape in Southern Nevada is as barren as the Mojave Desert.
With only two major universities in the state, most locals must delve into the junior college ranks to prolong their athletic careers beyond high school.
Problem is, those roster spots are just as scarce. Nevada has four community colleges, and the College of Southern Nevada is the only one near Las Vegas. Neighboring states California and Arizona have 114 and 19, respectively.
To combat the lack of opportunities, CSN Athletic Director Dexter Irvin has, since taking over the department in 2014, made it his mission to add sports. Irvin introduced volleyball for the 2015-16 school year and will follow with men’s and women’s soccer this fall.
“I believe soccer is going to be a really strong thing for us,” Irvin said. “Obviously, we want to be competitive as quickly as we can, but again, that is secondary to providing opportunities for student-athletes in the greater Las Vegas area.”
The school self-imposes a rule that all teams must include a minimum of 80 percent locals.
Baseball and softball are the only sports that offer scholarships. Each offers 24 scholarships per season — the maximum allowed at the community college level — that include full tuition, fees and books.
Volleyball and soccer are considered “opportunity sports” for now, but they may not remain that way for long. Irvin plans to offer scholarships in those sports as soon as 2018. He hired Geoff Hawkins and Jennifer Schultz as coaches for the men’s and women’s soccer teams, respectively, to begin building up the programs.
Hawkins played soccer at Humboldt State University in California, enjoyed a brief professional career and now serves as president of the Las Vegas Mobsters, a United Soccer League Premier Development League team. Schultz graduated from Green Valley High School before playing soccer at Dixie State University in Utah and in the English Women’s Premier League.
“It came as a surprise, but I’m really excited,” Schultz said of the CSN job. “It’s great to be involved with something that is starting from the grassroots.”
The process of building a team from scratch has not come without challenges. Schultz said it is difficult to persuade high school seniors to commit to CSN.
“They want to use us as their safety net if nothing else comes along, but it puts us in a bit of a predicament,” she said. “We are already late to the dance and trying to get our squad filled. You have kids who you want, but they are waiting. Do you wait on them, or do you fill their spot with a slightly less talented kid who has the desire to play at CSN?”
They have signed 10 athletes to letters of intent, but Irvin hopes both soccer programs start the season with 30 players because of how many doubleheaders will be scheduled.
“I think there’s a stigma that they aren’t playing on an athletic scholarship,” Schultz said. “But there are plenty of academic scholarship opportunities for them, and CSN is inexpensive to begin with.”
There are rumblings that CSN could add basketball. The school has fielded soccer and basketball teams in the past but quickly folded them.
Robert Smith, who played basketball at UNLV from 1974 to 1977 and spent seven years in the NBA, coached the CSN women’s team 12 years ago in its only season. He said it was a great experience for local athletes, but the team was plagued by a lack of funds.
“I would tell the coaches and the coaching staff to find someone who can help them out financially as far as getting equipment and things,” Smith said. “If you have someone who can back you financially, be it a sporting goods store or a small shop that can help provide things for the team, it can go a long way toward their success.”
Irvin agreed that sports failed in the past because CSN failed to adequately develop infrastructure to support the teams. The startup budget for a team at CSN is $35,000, which includes equipment and coaching salaries. That figure balloons to $75,000 in year one.
To help raise the money, CSN hired Terry Cottle as an athletic development coordinator. Cottle spent nearly 30 years at UNLV, including as assistant football coach and associate athletic director.
CSN’s total athletic budget for the current school year is $1,161,468.
Irvin believes CSN has done its due diligence this time around and the new sports will succeed.
“We now have a full-time compliance person and a game-management fundraiser person,” Irvin said. “They are building the teams by recruiting, getting all of the equipment and getting the field ready.”
The soccer teams will play at Heritage Soccer Park near Lake Mead Parkway and Boulder Highway, while the volleyball team plays at the CSN campus on Cheyenne Avenue.
Irvin predicts more locals will be attracted to the new CSN sports once they see players in action. Men’s soccer may not need much more demand, as 131 players showed up for the first tryout.
“We have a lot of prospects that for whatever reason can’t afford to go out of state or don’t want to go out of state,” Hawkins said. “I would say that we have competitive talent here, that we could build a team to be competitive right away at the Division I junior college level.”
That’s exactly Irvin’s aim.
“We have about 50 high schools in our area, and the concept here is to enhance the experience at CSN so we are providing that opportunity for the young people in the valley,” he said.