Little Rock (LR) Athletic Director Chasse Conque is entering his fifth year at the helm of LR Athletics. In that time, he’s led the department to unprecedented success on the playing field, a rebranding, and countless other achievements. To reflect on the previous four years, the Fall 2018 semester, and the future of LR Athletics, Conque answered a selection of questions from the Forum.
- Looking back at the Fall semester, what’re you most proud of? What are some of the significant achievements and milestones the program reached?
Our department experienced tremendous success in the fall. It would be hard to identify just one area where we excelled, but I would start with our work in the classroom. I am very proud of the 3.36 cumulative GPA our student-athletes achieved, which is a department-record. Senior Woman Administrator, Molly Castner, and her team have done a phenomenal job working with our coaches to provide support to our young people in their academic endeavors. I am also extremely proud of our first soccer conference championship and NCAA tournament appearance in school history under first-year head coach, Mark Foster. This is our first non-basketball championship since 2014. Volleyball had a nice turnaround winning 19 matches, and our men’s golf program has the highest national ranking in almost 15 years – again, so much to be proud of. Hosting the University of Arkansas in a fall baseball scrimmage in front of a sold-out crowd at Gary Hogan Field was also a great milestone for Little Rock Athletics.
- Taking those accomplishments and milestones into account, how can the program build on them and what are some benchmarks the program is looking to reach?
While the fall was successful, we are just at the halfway point. I am looking forward to seeing how our golf program competes this spring and also very excited about Coach Chris Curry and our baseball program. Chris is entering his fifth year at the helm, and I feel our program is positioned to compete at a high level this year. With a dozen or so basketball games left in our conference slate, we have a lot of potential with both our men’s and women’s teams. Coach Joe Foley has played a national schedule to this point, and once again it is paying off as we sit at the top of the league standings. Coach Darrell Walker has a great deal of talent, but our team is young. We have certainly had some bright spots, and hopefully, we will continue to grow and position ourselves to be ready for the conference tournament come March.
- What events are you most looking forward to this semester?
This is a big recruiting year for many of our sports. We have six wrestling student-athletes on campus and expect 24 young men to compete for us this fall as we begin competition. I have been pleased with Coach JP Behnke’s first year at Little Rock as our head Track & Field/Cross Country coach. We look to double the size of our track roster as well as make a significant increase in the number of student-athletes in our swimming & diving program. When it is said and done, we should see some 50-60 additional student-athletes competing for #LittleRocksTeam by the fall of 2021.
Our staff, coaches and student-athletes have a great deal to look forward to this spring. We have a solid and very competitive baseball schedule that includes several great home series as well as a trip to play the University of Arkansas on April 2. We are anxious to see the construction of the new Greg Hatcher Wrestling Facility which should be completed before the fall semester. Overall, many of our programs are in great shape and on an upward trajectory. I am confident in the men and women leading our respective teams and look forward to seeing how we finish on the fields of play and in the classroom.
- You just had your fourth anniversary as LR’s athletic director. What’re some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of?
As I begin my fifth year as Director of Athletics, I have taken some time to reflect on the past four years, what we have accomplished together but also some areas we still have work to do. Serving as the AD at Little Rock is a very fulfilling and rewarding role. The growth of our department externally has been a point of pride, but there are so many areas behind the scenes, that have benefited from significant investment and the hiring of great people to carry out our mission. We are more sound, well-rounded and intentional with our practices. I feel we have elevated the student-athlete experience, invested in every sport across the board and positioned ourselves to compete at a high level in all areas. As I sit here today, I believe we have the best senior staff this department has had, and I have a great deal of trust in our head coaches leading our young people. It is a great position to be in, but sustaining and even growing will continue to take hard work, GRIT and buy-in from our city and campus community. Speaking of the campus community, I am extremely grateful for the support and relationships Athletics has helped develop over the past several years. Athletics does not belong on an island and working with our students, faculty, and staff have made a significant difference from four years ago.
Entering year five, I feel we have a great deal to be proud of – but it all starts with people. Like I mentioned, we have incredible professionals working each day to advance the mission of Trojan Athletics – both coaches and administrators. I am proud of our academic success, our 3,000-plus hours of community service each year and the momentum we have witnessed in the community around #LittleRocksTeam. To continue our momentum, we cannot let up. We have to continue to dream big, think outside the box and never pass on an opportunity to better ourselves. Our fundraising efforts have substantially aided our financial position, and that area will continue to be a pillar moving forward. Last year, we raised a record $4.3M, which is a great indicator that our constituents believe in what we are doing. To date, we are $1M ahead of where we were this time last year. Indicators like these give us the confidence to keep pushing.
- What’s left to accomplish?
While we have experienced solid growth and advanced many areas of our department, I feel there is still much work to do. Our vision and mission remain the same, and our commitment to the student-athlete experience is unwavering. I am hopeful we will continue to enhance our brand and build more support in our local community. We are constantly looking at ways to increase student attendance at our home events, and we desperately want feedback from our students on how we can entice them and enhance their game day experience. Our staff continues to work to get merchandise in our local retail outlets, and I feel this would be a major step for our program. Generating revenue to sustain our efforts continues to be at the top of the list, and we will focus on ticket sales, donations and corporate partnerships to move the needle. Our staff is excited to see us launch our first new program in 20 years with men’s wrestling competing later this fall. Bottom line, we are pleased with our progress but very excited about the future and what we will continue to accomplish together.
- What’s one thing you, in hindsight, would’ve liked to have been able to tell yourself when you first started the job?
As for something I wish I would have known or realized when I started as AD four years ago, I was certainly aware that as a leader you are only as good as your people, but I don’t think this can be emphasized enough. I say with complete confidence that we have the best staff and senior level leadership in this department that we have ever had. It takes time to build a team, and this team has evolved over the years. We have a great mix of seasoned, experienced administrators combined with a younger staff that blends extremely well. You have to be patient to get to this point, but I feel I am the luckiest AD in the country as I get to work alongside the best senior staff we could possibly assemble. Combined with an incredibly talented and committed group of head and assistant coaches, our student-athletes are surrounded by folks that care and fight for their well-being each and every day. I am certainly blessed.