Only three years removed from being a tennis athlete at Northern Colorado, Ironwood Ridge graduate Marissa Baca is now making certain those competing with the Bears are following NCAA rules at the Greeley, Colo., institution.
It didn’t make the headline news in Tucson on Sept. 1, but the hiring that day of Baca by Northern Colorado to be assistant director of compliance is significant for these parts.
One of Tucson’s own is succeeding with her career ambition in a field that is fortunately becoming more prevalent for females in the male-dominated business of college athletic administration.
Seven Pac-12 schools have women running their respective compliance department — Colorado, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Utah, Washington and Washington State. Only 12 percent of NCAA Division I schools have female athletic directors — 39 of 339 institutions.
“I want to keep moving up. I want to stay in compliance. Mostly in the future, I want to become the director of compliance for a university,” said Baca, who was in town on Saturday preparing for her upcoming wedding.
“My goal is just to keep helping out the student-athletes. That’s really what the pleasure of the job is. It doesn’t matter necessarily whether it’s a Big Sky school, like where I am at now, or at a Power 5 school. I would love to keep growing. To get to a Power 5 school would be awesome, but I’m really happy where I’m at now and with it being my alma mater, it makes it that much more special.”
Baca, 24, envisioned herself more as a coach down the road after leaving Ironwood Ridge as a state champion tennis player in 2013 for Northern Colorado. Her promise as a leader was evident in her selection by Ironwood Ridge coach Bill Little to be the team’s captain all four years. A freshman captain? That’s unheard of.
Her combined singles and doubles career record at Ironwood Ridge was 131-13, a winning percentage of 90.9.
“Once I took a few classes in my grad program at Northern Colorado, I really started really liking the NCAA and the rules and everything that has to do with athletics,” said Baca, who was a four-year letter-winner in tennis for the Bears.
“I’m a Type-A person and somebody who follows the rules anyway, so I really thought that that would be the perfect field for me.”
Baca’s success on the tennis court, mostly in doubles competition, continued after leaving Ironwood Ridge. She and doubles partner Anna Battersby finished 14-4 overall and 9-1 in the conference play when Baca was a senior with the Bears in 2017.
She was a two-time recipient of All-Academic Team honors for the Big Sky. She earned her Bachelors in English Liberal Arts with a minor in Spanish in May 2017 and her Masters in Sports and Exercise Science: Sport Administration last December.
Baca made the switch to compliance full-time in May after serving two years as Northern Colorado’s assistant women’s tennis coach. She was an interim assistant athletic director for compliance for four months before her elevation to full-time assistant director of compliance on Sept. 1.
“I’ve been in all three sides. I’ve been a student-athlete. I have been a coach and now I am a person making sure that the student-athletes are following the rules and that that the coaches are following the rules,” Baca said. “I just like that I am able to work with everybody in the athletic department as opposed to just the tennis team or just work with a head tennis coach.
“Now I get to work with all the sports, all the coaches, all the athletes, make sure everybody’s eligible, and make sure they’re not getting into NCAA violations.”
Handling that task at Northern Colorado is assistant athletic director for compliance Matt Raidbard and Baca. It’s a “staff” of two.
Arizona has five members in its compliance department — Brent Blaylock (associate athletic director for compliance), Kyle Eisenmann (assistant director of compliance), Taylor Hess (assistant director of compliance), Monika Gruszecki (director of compliance) and Natalee Perry (compliance coordinator).
“Right now, there are about 400 student-athletes and lots of coaches and two compliance people,” Baca said about Northern Colorado. “It can be challenging, making sure that we’re tracking everybody, paying attention to details, including social media. Sometimes it can be really tedious.
“But I think the best compliance directors try to help the coaches as much as possible. We’re not trying to seek out violations or see if anybody’s doing anything wrong. We’re trying to prevent that.”
Growing up in the household of Bruce and Flo Baca has provided Marissa proper direction, discipline and willingness to give back to her community as a university employee.
Her tennis career started when she was 6 and she was also childhood actor who appeared in two movies filmed in the Tucson area — Spin in 2003 with Dana Delaney and Miracle at Sage Creek in 2005 with David Carradine.
Bruce Baca, a promoter of the youth in the Tucson area as evidenced by his sponsorship of a team in the Tucson Summer Pro League for Kids, presents himself as a realtor and community leader in his Web site. “The family is committed to improving the economic conditions for all people of our community,” it says.
“The Real Estate Industry, home buyers and home sellers will enjoy and benefit from Bruce’s engagement, integrity, character and willingness to help and do what is right all the time,” the site also states. That describes what his daughter’s compliance role requires at Northern Colorado — integrity, character and willingness to help and do what is right all the time.
Flo Baca is employed by the Amphi School District and has been an active member of Project Graduation and the Project Grad Business Breakfast for almost 10 years.
Their son Joshua is an accomplished student at Chapman University near Los Angeles with aspirations of entering animation production in Hollywood.
Marissa has become endeared to the outdoors lifestyle of Greeley, and she is passionate about Northern Colorado athletics, but she is beholden to Tucson because of her family and upbringing here. Her coaches, teammates and friends from Ironwood Ridge will attend her wedding next month. She enjoyed her one day back in her hometown Saturday planning for the ceremony before returning to her office at Northern Colorado on Sunday.
“For a long time it was coaching that I wanted to do, and beyond that, becoming an athletic director,” she said. “So it doesn’t surprise me that I’m in administration, but it’s surreal that — and I know it’s a cliché — I have my dream job right now. I knew I would get there.
“It’s crazy and awesome. It’s also great to be here right now. It’s an exciting time.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.