AZ colleges debut new sports programs for track, baseball

The options in Arizona are growing for high school athletes who want to move on to play at the college level.

Two new sports programs debut this weekend, as Grand Canyon University launches its new track & field program and Arizona Christian University throws out the first ball in its new baseball program.

Arizona Christian is the new name for Southwestern College, a private Christian college located in north Phoenix that will mark its 50th anniversary with a formal celebration in March.

The school has plans to double its current 500-student enrollment over the next few years, and the expansion of its athletic offerings is part of that plan.  It competes in NAIA Division I as an independent.

ACU’s inaugural season will include a 50-game schedule with 21 home contests, beginning with today’s opener against Wayland Baptist University.  Its roster includes 10 local high school grads from across Arizona.

Grand Canyon University, which is a NCAA D-II school in west Phoenix, also features many local athletes on the school’s many sports rosters.

It was three of those local standouts that kicked the new track & field season off to a good start at the Cherry and Silver Invitational in Albuquerque, NM, yesterday.

Brianne Kee, a freshman from Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria, set the tone in the very first event in the program’s history, the long jump.  Kee cleared 18 feet, 4 1/2 inches, which is a NCAA provisional mark, and then later improved that to 18′ 10 1/2″.

She gets to tell her grandkids she once held the school record in that event, even it lasts for just one meet.

And likewise for Jikio Bain, who graduated Raymond S. Kellis High School in Glendale and then competed for Glendale Community College before transferring to GCU.  Bain finished second overall in the men’s 200 meters in a time of 21:55, also an NCAA provisional mark and the second-fastest time in the country at the D-II level this year.

And Clark Coyle, a junior from Mesa High School and Mesa Community College, rounded out the local trio with a fourth-place finish in the 600 meters (1:21.20).

Savine Hodges, a redshirt freshman from Jamaica, posted the fastest time in Division II this year in the women’s 200 meters as she clocked in at 24:28 for a fifth place overall.

Tim Flood becomes the Antelopes’ first head coach for the new program, coming to GCU from Colorado State University, where he was the sprints, hurdles, relays, and horizontal jumps coach for four seasons.

American Christian turned to a couple of local coaches to get their new baseball program off the ground.  The school selected former Pinnacle High School coach, Rich Warnol, to serve as the interim head coach this season.  He will be assisted by Billy Hallstrom, who comes through the Scottsdale Christian High School program.

Both coaches will undoubtedly continue to tap into the pool of local talent all around them as they begin laying the foundations for their programs.

With over 150 private and public high schools in the state, there’s enough talent to go around.

(Photos: Arizona Christian Athletics)