August tells story of GCU’s growing role in local recruiting

A flurry of recruit signings announced by Grand Canyon University this month helps to illustrate the impact the private, Christian-based college in west Phoenix is having on the college careers of local athletes.

The Antelopes are sucking up the local talent like a vacuum.

Arizona State in Tempe and University of Arizona in Tucson play in the prestigious Pac-10 and get the lion’s share of top talent in Arizona, but don’t have rosters laden with local kids because their recruiting efforts are often focused in other ‘hotbeds’ of talent around the country.

Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, another large D-I school, plays in the Big Sky Conference and counts on being able to pick up good athletes from within the state, to go with those they find out of state who are not adverse to snow-covered winters.  Thus, fans find more familiar faces at NAU athletic contests.

But GCU thrives off the athletes overlooked by the Big Three, or those that may just want to stay closer to home and give parents and family a chance to stay involved with their college careers.

Arizona offers one of the best, most competitive junior college sports systems in the country, and good athletes use the JUCO programs as a stepping stone to the four-year experience.  But there are many talented players coming out of Arizona high schools each year that are ready for the four-year programs, but unable to get offers from the larger universities.

That’s where a smaller college like GCU comes in.  Even though Grand Canyon now offers 22 different men’s and women’s sports programs, actually more than the other in-state universities, they have to be considered among the small colleges.  The school has an on-line enrollment of around 43,000, but their projections for on-campus students are pegged at just 6,000 by 2013.

But the school understands it takes great facilities to wow today’s recruits.  Its latest effort is a 5,000-seat Event Center that will be the new home of the women’s and men’s basketball teams.  And a $60 million expansion plan also includes new athletic fields for some of the other teams.

So the athletic department has lots of teams to fill with the best athletes they can find.  And most of those are being harvested right in their own back yard.

The women’s track and field program, which was just added this year, is a good example of that, as the recruiting class includes eight athletes – seven from Arizona high schools: Brianne Kee (Sunrise Mountain HS), Lacey Modzeleski (Cactus Shadows HS), Amber Christenberry (Ironwood HS), Lesilia Foster (Copper Canyon HS), Callie Davis (Highland HS), Amber Yingling (Raymond Kellis HS), and Sarah Stemm (Pinnacle HS).

Six will be transferring in from local community colleges and one from Norther Arizona.  Modzeleski, Christenberry, and Foster are arriving via Glendale CC; Davis spent a year at Mesa CC; Stemm ran hurdles for Paradise Valley CC; and Yingling competed in field events at NAU.

Kee is coming directly from Sunrise Mountain, where she was a state champion two years in a row, winning the 5A-II long jump title in 2008 and was the triple jump champion in 2009.

The men’s track & field program just wrapped up the 4A-II state champion in both the long jump and 4x100m relay.  Aaron Hill from Williams Field HS in Gilbert – where he holds school records in the 200m, high jump, and long jump – signed his letter of intent last week.

The basketball program signed two local standouts last week in Chris Johnson, who played at Highland HS in Gilbert before finishing out his high school career in Connecticut, and Barret Robbins, who played at Chandler-Gilbert CC after graduating from Desert Vista HS in Phoenix.

Johnson is a 6’6″ guard/forward who was listed by the New England Recruiting Report as the 18th-ranked prep player in Connecticut. Robbins, a 6’6″ power forward, played one season at CGCC.

Also in their recruiting class are a couple more locals, Braylon Pickrel from Red Mountain HS in Mesa and Micah Fetters from Hamilton HS in Chandler.

Women’s volleyball added five more local standouts: Megan Davis (Westwood HS), Kristen Johannsen (Valley Christian HS), Sara Bowden (Corona del Sol HS), Carly Edington (Centennial HS), and Kaitlynn Ausmus (Deer Valley HS).

And, finally this month, the Lopes softball team rounded out their final roster for the 2011 season by adding six new recruits, four of whom are from the Valley.

Rachel Meyer is a catcher and infielder from Mesquite HS in Gilbert; Stephanie Smith comes from Sandra Day O’Connor HS in Phoenix, where she was a second team All-Region infielder; Claire Zampini, an outfielder and second-baseman for Deer Valley HS who played on the 5A State All Star team as a senior; and Kirstin Linert, a two-time Player of the Year as a pitcher for Sandra Day O’Connor HS before playing two seasons at Glendale CC.

(Photo: GCU Athletics)