GCU swim teams nationally ranked and qualifying early

Buoyed by local high school grads, the Antelopes are churning up the waters, setting school records and climbing to a No. 8 national ranking on the boys’ side.

The Grand Canyon University swim teams are roughly halfway through the season and already have posted 52 NCAA B-cut times and three A- cut times, as they work toward qualifying their swimmers early for the national championships.

Capping off the 2010 portion of the schedule, the men’s and women’s teams also combined to set 34 school records.

“Our goal was to set the table for the NCAA Championships and get as many of our kids qualified early, so they could train straight through to the NCAAs for the second half of the season,” explained head coach, Steve Schaffer.

This group is well ahead of last year’s team in that respect.  Last year, the program compiled just 29 cut times for the entire season.

So Schaffer’s game plan is on track, as five on the men’s team and four of the women swimmers are headed for the NCAA D-II Championships in March.

Both groups have a pair of local standouts.

Leading the way in the women’s foursome is Mychala Lynch from Xavier Prep in Phoenix, who started her college career at Texas Christian University and then transferred in to GCU for her junior year to help the ‘Lopes to their current No. 16 ranking.

Lynch has been named the RMAC Swimmer of the Week three times already and has set six individual school records.  Her time of 55.37 in the 100 fly is currently the third-best in the nation.

Lynch and Michael Branning from the men’s team were named the men’s and women’s Swimmer of the Week following the ‘Lopes most recent event, the Husky Invitational in Seattle, Wash., held over the Dec. 3-5 weekend.  GCU freshman Samantha Magnani was the high-point scorer at the Invitational.

Branning is another local product, fresh out of Paradise Valley High School where he won the state title last year in the 50 freestyle.

His time of 20.31 in the 50 free is not only a school record, but is the nation’s second-best this season, and Lynch has posted a 55.37 in the 100 fly to rank No. 3 in that event.

The remainder of the women’s quartet headed to the NCAAs includes Caiti Hoffman, a junior who was a four-time state qualifier at  Gilbert High School and set the school records in the 100 backstroke and the 200 IM.  A couple of swimmers from California, Magnani and junior Candace Valenzuela, round out the group.

On the boys’ side, Branning is joined by Charles Woodruff, a senior from Central High School in Phoenix who is the only member of the men’s team that has been with the program since it began four years ago.

The local products are joined in the group of five by the “international contingent”…Ralph Herberg from Germany, Ivan Nechunaev from Russia, and Artem Tretiakov from the Ukraine.

Tretiakov has posted the second-fastest time in the 100 free style (44.72) and Nechunaev owns the fourth-fastest Division II time in the 200 fly (1:49.08) enroute to setting eight school records.

The Lopes won’t be back in the water competing until Jan. 7, when the men host Mesa State and the women take on Mesa State and Alaska Fairbanks.  That meet will be held at the Dottie Boreyko/Brophy Sports Campus in Phoenix.

(Photo: GCU Athletics/Tim Koors)