IUPUI student-athletes see more competition, rivalries in the Horizon

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IUPUI cheerleaders and the women's basketball team pose with Chancellor Nasser H. Paydar (center, holding ball) during a press conference that announced IUPUI Athletics' move to the Horizon League. Liz Kaye, IU Communications

Fans of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis athletics had a huge reason to roar on the morning of June 28: It was announced the Jaguars were taking their talents to the Horizon League.

The news was embraced, despite the Jags' almost 20-year history with the Summit League and recent conference success. From Chancellor Nasser H. Paydar to the student-athletes themselves, moving to the Horizon was a step up in competition, in their view. To go along with the stiff competition, closer proximity to conference rivals means less arduous travel for road games and the opportunity for more rivalries. And more victories. 

"We're entering the Horizon League, and we're planning on competing for championships -- sooner than later," IUPUI athletic director Roderick Perry told a packed Campus Center during the June 28 press conference. "We're hoping to take our momentum into the Horizon League."

The move was made official July 1. The first Horizon League competition for the Jags is set for 7 p.m. Sept. 9, when the men's soccer team opens up league play at Michael A. Carroll Track & Soccer Stadium. 

Since IUPUI made the jump to NCAA Division I in 1989, the Jags have been Summit League competitors, winning championships in most sports along the way. The team was ranked fourth overall in 2016-17. But travel averaged about 600 miles between schools, making rivalries tough and eliminating much alumni involvement. 

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A video screen at a press conference displays the logos of the schools that now comprise the Horizon League. Liz Kaye, IU Communications

The Jags' Summit schedule saw matches at the University of Denver (1,085 miles from Indianapolis), North Dakota State University (834 miles) and University of Nebraska-Omaha (616 miles).

All but two of the schools in the Horizon League, however, are in states that border Indiana. The average distance from Indianapolis to Horizon schools is 264 miles, with Wright State University the closest (117 miles) and University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (396 miles) the farthest. 

These new Horizon opponents, including University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (279 miles), Northern Kentucky University (120 miles) and Detroit Mercy (299 miles), offer shorter road trips for athletes and give fans an easier option to follow their teams.

IUPUI is the league's lone Indiana representative, following in the footsteps of Horizon alumni Butler University and Valparaiso University.

Since she was injured most of her freshman year, women's basketball forward Anaiah Williams is especially pumped to take on regional schools like Youngstown State University, Cleveland State University and Oakland University, a school of about 20,000 students in Rochester, Michigan. The 6-foot-2-inch Cincinnati native predicts a higher level of play in the Horizon.

"We can always get better, so this is a way to make us better," Williams said. "It's another opportunity for us to rise to the top."

Hannah March and Hayley Shelton, a senior duo of attacking midfielders for IUPUI women's soccer, said that Horizon schools like Northern Kentucky and University of Illinois-Chicago are familiar opponents in nonconference play. Men's and women's soccer have played both schools multiple times. 

"It was always a good battle," said March, a health sciences major. "This sets us up well for success. It's closer range."

The move has IUPUI coaches amped up, too. Men's tennis head coach Brandon Currie also deemed the move an ace.

"Family members and fans will have a better chance to support us on the road," he said. "I just think it shows the efforts of the administration, the athletic department and the faculty trying to progress not only athletics but IUPUI as a whole."