Back to the first 1000 days of Conque at the UTRGV

GREAT RIO VALLEY – As he reflected on his first 1,000 days as vice president and athletic director at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, there was one thing Hunting Conch kept coming back to: people.

Conque has influenced many exciting changes, additions and milestones during his nearly three years at UTRGV. But he also had to help steer the varsity and athletic department through several sets of hurdles. And for Conque, the key to overcoming obstacles and continuing the journey has been the people he serves and those he serves with.

“You go back to my first day on August 26, 2019 and we had about six months of normality, before the pandemic, and then things changed drastically,” Conque said. “We didn’t know what we were going to go through together. We’ve had a lot of ups and we’ve had to go through some really tough things. It all comes down to the amazing people I work with every day and a great group of young people that we can serve.

“Our administration, our staff, our coaches and of course our student-athletes, it is thanks to all this work together, everyone growing in the same direction, that these 1,000 days have been very rewarding.

Conque moved to the Rio Grande Valley with his wife, Lisa, and their three daughters, Julianna, Sydney and Adeline, after serving as vice chancellor and director of athletics at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock from 2015 to 2019. A native of South Louisiana, Conque said the culture of South Texas reminded her of her home, both filled with people who care about each other and understand the importance of family.

Since Day 1, Conque’s mission has been to unite the RGV around the Vaqueros. His phrase “Rally the Valley” used at his introductory press conference became the motto of the athletic department, and the UTRGV did so despite early difficulties.

Overcome the obstacles

On the Conch 200and On March 12, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. Sports went on hiatus and no one knew when they would return. The summer of 2020 brought Hurricane Hanna, which wreaked havoc on the Rio Grande Valley, and a series of acts of social injustice that had an emotional impact on the nation.

During this difficult period, Conque set a standard for the UTRGV. He took the Collegiate Coaching Diversity Pledge and took a stand against social injustice. In line with these actions, UTRGV Athletics unveiled the Vaqueros United initiative in conjunction with the UTRGV Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), pledging to contribute to change in peace, equality, social justice and human rights.

“The summer of 2020 was difficult from a pandemic perspective and to observe the social injustice that was so prevalent,” Conque said. “We said to each other and we told our student-athletes, as that summer highlighted the importance of being very clear about our posture and our support and how we feel as a department. sporty, we didn’t just want it to be responsive because of what we were going through that summer.

“I do end-of-year meetings with our student-athletes, about 15 to 20 a year, and they’re wonderful because there’s good, bad and ugly. These meetings are a time to hear what they want us to explore or maybe do differently,” he added. “One thing that came up was a tip on the diversity of the Vaqueros United initiative, so this summer we’ll be going through time working with SAAC and developing a plan so we can do just that, which is a perfect way to continue to engage our student-athletes on how we want to make effective change. »

Sport returned for the Vaqueros on November 25, 2020, 258 days after the start of the break. The men’s and women’s basketball teams swept rival Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at Bert Ogden Arena a week later, the first games there during Conque’s tenure. The women’s team hosted the first UTRGV South Padre Island Classic, taking a big step in the commitment to bring Vaqueros athletics to Cameron County.

As things began to improve, new challenges presented themselves. The UTRGV was shocked and heartbroken by the sudden death of men’s basketball coach Lew Hill, an ordeal that Conque said was the most unique and difficult he had ever had to endure. Eight days later, the state of Texas was hit by winter storm Yuri.

With a passionate and hardworking team around him, Conque knew the Vaqueros would overcome any obstacle, and they learned a lot of lessons from going through them all together.

“There are a lot of nights where I would stay in bed and just count my blessings that we’re in a place like UTRGV with people that we have,” Conque said. “I benefited early on from being welcomed, accepted and supported by our athletics team. When you face adversity early on, you learn very quickly if you were able to develop that relationship, that rapport. Very often, we were reminded that, yes, it can be tough, but I couldn’t imagine going through it with anyone better than the people we were going through it with.”

#RISEup

Before the series of obstacles that started on his 200and day, Conque’s first 199 brought immediate progress to the UTRGV.

He celebrated Day 100 with the grand opening of Vaquero Village, commemorating $1.5 million in renovations to the UTRGV Fieldhouse to improve the student-athlete and fan experience. Fan engagement was also up at UTRGV Ballpark, with the corrals opening and a 30-year best attendance average of 1,087 fans per game before the 2020 season was halted due to the pandemic.

As challenging and unprecedented as the next few months may be, the UTRGV has recovered and leveraged the momentum created during the first 200 days of Conch to make the past 200 unprecedented in their own positive way.

UTRGV broke the all-time basketball season ticket sales record in November 2021 and the all-time baseball ticket package record in February 2022. Vaqueros baseball drew a record crowd of 6,418 people while hosting Texas for the first time in 51 years and averaging 1,551 fans per game this season.

The student body passed a referendum in favor of expanding the sport, putting the Vaqueros on track to begin women’s swimming and diving in 2024 and soccer in 2025. The UTRGV Foundation has allocated a $1 million donation dollars to fund the expansion of the sport. The athletic department announced capital projects worth $30 million to improve facilities, benefiting the current 16 athletic programs.

Additionally, the Vaqueros flourished academically and in community service during Conque’s tenure. Team GPAs continue to increase each year, with the department’s cumulative GPA currently standing at 3.29. UTRGV ranks among the best in the nation in community service hours.

All the milestones Conque has helped achieve are reasons why just 816 days (just over two years) into a five-year contract, he was given a two-year contract extension, securing his place with UTRGV. until 2026.

“After evaluating his first two years at UTRGV, there was no doubt in my mind that Chasse deserved an extension,” UTRGV President Dr. Guy Bailey said in the press release on the extension. of the contract. “I have worked with many athletic directors in my career, and Chasse is one of the best I have worked with and one of the best in the country. thrives in competition and in the classroom.”

Looking ahead to her next 1,000 days and beyond, Conque knows a lot of exciting things are on the horizon. The Vaqueros are hopeful of soon hosting the Western Athletic Conference Swimming and Diving Championships in the brand new state-of-the-art town of Pharr and the UTRGV Aquatic Center, as well as other WAC Championship-level events. And of course, the start of UTRGV football is something the whole Valley and beyond is looking forward to.

While Conque said it was natural to wait for those big moments to happen, her first 1,000 days taught her the lesson of appreciating the process and those involved in it. He will soak up the small moments as much as the big ones as he continues to lead UTRGV Athletics’ mission for #RISEup.

“#RISEup is perfect for us for so many reasons. These are our core values ​​that we all stand for, which are Respect, Integrity, Success and Commitment, and a great acronym that I think we can all embrace. identify,” Conque said. “We are rising out of a tough time through the pandemic. We are rising competitively. We are rising to better serve and support the Rio Grande Valley. And our capital projects are raising buildings for our C programs. is the perfect way to sum up who we are and where we are going.

“One thing that the pandemic and the almost 3 years here at UTRGV have taught me is to enjoy these little moments,” he continued. “We’ve certainly had our challenges, but we’ve also had some real highlights and wonderful times to celebrate together. The journey we have to take and the people we can take it with is really special. can’t lose with the journey we’re going to take to get there and all the great work and wonderful things we’re going to do and the lives we’re going to have to impact along the way.”

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