Monday, April 1, 2019

Jim Sarra sets sights high for UIS athletics

Closing in on completing his third academic year, University of Illinois Springfield Director of Athletics Jim Sarra is pleased with how far the school’s athletic program has come, but he still says there is much more ahead.

Sarra, who was hired in August 2016, doesn’t just want to raise the Prairie Stars’ athletic profile, he wants it to become a gold standard. And not just for central Illinois or the Great Lakes Valley Conference.

“Our vision is to be the premier Division II public athletics department in the Midwest,” Sarra said Tuesday in an interview about the current coaching vacancies in the men’s and women’s basketball programs.

Sarra wants to see more local products given the opportunity to play at UIS. The softball and men’s basketball team are peppered with players from The State Journal-Register’s coverage area. The baseball, volleyball and men and women’s soccer teams have a combined nine from the area. None exist on the women’s basketball roster. Sarra said the next two basketball hires will have to have an “inside-out” recruiting approach, which means start in Springfield and work out from there.

When Chatham Glenwood High School graduates Cole Harper and Peyton Allen suited up for the men’s basketball home opener this year, Sarra saw plenty of fans on hand — even if they were fans of the Titans.

“I think it’s important to recruit locally when we can. It also engages the community and we saw it this year, especially on the men’s side,” Sarra said. “I chuckle . . . there was more black and red and white in the crowd (for Glenwood) than there was blue and gold (UIS) because of Cole and Peyton.” 

Getting the athletic department to match Sarra’s vision is likely closer now than when he began. 

“We’ve seen some success over the last couple of years — probably a lot faster than I anticipated — but that’s because a lot of these coaches bought into what we’re doing and we’re not using anything as an excuse anymore,” Sarra said.

“When we made the transition to Division II from NAIA, it was hard and tough and we’re slowly catching up — and at some point, we’re surpassing other institutions that have been Division II for a long time,” Sarra said.

“Personnel-wise, there are still some things we need but at the same time, we’re pretty well set,” Sarra said. “You always want to get bigger and better. Facilities is probably the one place we’re lacking a little bit but that’s OK because we’ve got a plan in place and we’re strategically planning to put things in place to help us excel.”

This article appeared in The State Journal-Register on March 27, 2019.

Read the entire article online.