GCU soccer success draws top talent from other schools

It’s no secret in sports that winning attracts winners.  And the Grand Canyon University men’s soccer team is a prime example.

The Antelopes finished last season ranked No. 2  in the West Region of the Division II Pacific West Conference, and No. 7 in the nation.  Their 15-3-2 record was the third best in school history.

Their 2010 conference championship was the fourth in the five-year history of GCU’s participation in the PacWest.

And now the transfer of talent is beginning to roll in to the small Christian college in Phoenix.  The ‘Lopes picked up a boat load of transfers from other programs around the country during this off-season, which will provide additional scoring and shore up some of the few weak spots in last year’s roster.

It’s not like the ‘Lopes were hurting for scorers.  Sophomore forward Kyle Ciliento from nearby Pinnacle High School had 27 goals and 60 points this season and now has 50 career goals – which is just five fewer than the GCU record of 55 set 11 years ago.

Ciliento won his second straight PacWest Player of the Year award last season.

But that hasn’t stopped head coach Petar Draksin from loading up next season’s roster with still more firepower.

The latest acquisitions are a pair of Jamaica natives who are transferring in after playing a couple of years at Western Texas College.  Saeed Robinson was Western Texas’ Most Valuable Forward during his stay there and last season scored 16 goals in the 19 games he played.

Both Robinson and his Texas teammate, O’shane Brown, will also bring speed to the ‘Lopes game.  Brown is an All-Region selection from Western Texas who can play multiple positions, but will likely be slotted either on defense or in the midfield.  He was the team’s Most Valuable Defender at the junior college.

Among the handful of other transfers coming on board is another local athlete.  Jordan Diana is a graduate of Horizon High School in Scottsdale who played one season at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, so he will have three years of eligibility remaining.

Draksin recruited Diana out of high school, when he was the 2008 region Player of the Year.  After starting 12 of 14 games for Saint Michael’s, the youngster decided it was time to return to the Valley.

Another scoring boost should come with the addition of Ben Hamlett, who is transferring in from Mountain State University in West Virginia.  He was at the school for just one year, but made the most of it.  He was the conference leader in points (32), points per game, and game-winning goals per game.

Stipe-Darko Medic, a 2010 first-team All Region defender from Illinois Central College, will add some depth to the defense, while Alex Connally will bring versatility.  Connally played midfield as a freshman at Erskine College in South Carolina and center back as a sophomore.

Medic is one of two incoming players that will bolster the ‘Lopes’ left-side defense and left-side midfield, weak areas last season.  The other lefty is freshman Guido Riffeser who will be arriving from Italy and will likely work into a spot as left defender or midfield.

Another freshman, this one from Idaho, has reaped praise already from his new head coach.  Anel Smajic was an All-Star selection at Borah High School in Boise.

“I believe that Anel is one of the top soccer players in the state of Idaho,” says Draksin.  “For now, he’s going to join Kyle Ciliento as a forward, and he’s going to give us a dimension that we’ve really needed on the front line – a true forward that has speed and a knack for scoring goals.”

And for good measure, Draksin has picked up another goalie to provide additional depth at that position.  And he found this one right where he discovered Ben Paneccasio, who finished up his GCU career last season with the school record for career shutouts with 22.

Nick Punter, like Paneccasio, is transferring in from Tyler Junior College in Texas, where he was a member of the school’s back-to-back NJCAA D-I national championship teams.

But he will have stiff competition if he wants to step in to replace Paneccasio.  Draksin plans to carry as many as five goalkeepers.

That’s another benefit winning programs enjoy… talent and depth at just about every position.  And GCU continues to get deeper across the board.

(Photo: GCU Athletics)