GCU launches new track program, earns early respect

Arizona’s newest college track & field program has really hit the ground running… so to speak.

Grand Canyon University just rolled out its new program and has already earned instant respect, as both men’s and women’s teams are nationally ranked.

As the indoor track season opened for the Division II school in west Phoenix, the women’s team entered the season with a No. 20 ranking from the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.  And, after several events, they’ve moved up to No. 19.

The men didn’t receive a pre-season ranking, but since then have entered the national polls at No. 23.

(*Update… latest rankings released Feb. 15 show the men’s team has moved up to No. 15 and the women’s team is now at No. 14.)

The Antelopes qualified for the NCAA Championships in two events at yesterday’s NAU Open at the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, which brings the program’s total qualifiers to 10.

Two women qualified at the NAU Open, including a local athlete from Raymond S. Kellis High School in Peoria.  Sophomore Amber Yingling finished second in the women’s triple jump and hit the provisional mark with a leap of 38′ 2 1/4″.

She was joined by a couple of transfers from local junior colleges, Tyler Sipes in the men’s 60-meter hurdles and Brittany Warren in the women’s pole vault.

Sipes, a junior who competed at Mesa Community College, won the 60m hurdles in a time of 7.90 seconds, which is an automatic qualifier for the USA Track & Field Indoor Championships and is listed as the second-fastest time in the nation this year.

Warren, a junior from Paradise Valley Community College, tied for second in the pole vault and hit the provisional mark with a vault of 11′ 5 3/4″.

The Antelopes opened their inaugural season Jan. 21 in the Cherry & Silver Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M.  They followed that historic event with a multi-squad invitational at Paradise Valley Community College and then a couple of trips back to New Mexico for a multi and an invitational.

During that time, they qualified for the NCAA Championships in eight events.  Four of those qualifiers were local athletes: Brianne Kee, a freshman from Sunrise Mountain HS, who qualified in the women’s long jump; Mikio Bain, a junior from Raymond S. Kellis HS, in the men’s 200 meters; Aaron Hill, a freshman from Williams Field HS, in the men’s long jump; and Precious Amukamara, a junior from Apollo HS, in the women’s 400-meter dash.

GCU ran a limited schedule last spring with the cross country athletes who were already on campus, and then focused on a full indoor/outdoor program this year.

Tom Flood was tabbed as the program’s first head coach, charged with getting the inaugural program off the ground.  Flood was the sprints, hurdles, relays and horizontal jumps coach at Colorado State University for four seasons and is a former long jumper and triple jumper at Arizona State.

The addition of the track & field program gives the college some additional bragging rights, as they now offer 22 sports programs and can say the small Christian-based school now has the largest intercollegiate athletics program in Arizona.

(Photo: GCU Athletics/Tim Koors)