GCU wrestling schedule packed with top D-II programs

The first wrestling match for Grand Canyon University is four weeks away, but R.C. LaHaye can’t wait for the season to get started.

“We are very excited for this season,” says the head wrestling coach, who is entering his fifth campaign at the small D-II college in west Phoenix.  “As long as we can stay healthy, our potential is off the charts.”

He’s not the only one to recognize the potential of this year’s crop.  The recruiting class is ranked No. 5 in the country by Wrestling USA Magazine, and they have added a handful of JUCO and D-I transfers for more depth.

“From the top to the bottom, this recruiting class will take our program to the next level,” adds LaHaye, who is the only head coach in the history of the program.  “We have several blue chip high school recruits, combined with some instant-impact transfers that will fuel our program for years to come.”

The pair of Division I transfers includes Jordan Johnson, who arrives from the University of Iowa, and Bobby Ward from North Carolina State.

Johnson is a high school state champion who went 14-3 in 2009-2010 and won the Wisconsin Open title.  He has one year of eligibility remaining.  Ward was a NCAA national qualifier at NC State and was also a NJCAA national runner-up while wrestling at Nassau Community College.  He will have two years to give to the GCU program at the 149 lb. classification.

The recruiting class includes Andy Rico, a two-time high school state champion (149) in Texas; Oregon state champion, Chayse Jackson (141); and Stevan Knoblauch, the California state runner-up at 125.

In addition, LaHaye picked up a couple of junior college transfers in Brett Sanchez and Kyle McCrite.  Sanchez  finished third at the NJCAA championships in the 184 class and McCrite was a sixth-place finisher at 125.

The Antelopes will have 13 home dual meets this season, highlighted by the Grand Canyon Duals on New Year’s Eve.  They went 17-4 in duals last season, the second-most wins in the nation, and won the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference regular season before wrapping up a seventh-place finish at the NCAA II Wrestling Championships.

Todd Wilcox also became the program’s first national champion, bringing home the 133 title after capping off a 36-3 senior season that included a 21-match winning streak.

The final coaches’ poll ranked them No. 9 nationally.

Again this season, the ‘Lopes will take to the mats against some of the best competition in Division II, including three teams that are generally ranked somewhere in the nation’s Top 5:  St. Cloud State, Newberry, and Nebraska Kearney.  They will also play host to three other programs that finished in the Top 20 last year:  No. 7 Western State, No. 13 San Francisco State, and No. 20 Adams State.

“We are wrestling the very best teams in Division II this season,” LaHaye points out.  “We’re also looking to push ourselves against Division I competition with our dual against ASU and the Roadrunner Open, which will open the season on Nov. 5.

The Arizona State Wrestling Festival is next on the schedule.  The Nov. 13 event is hosted at Wells Fargo Arena and features in-state competition.

And LaHaye, who was an All-American wrestler at Western State College in Colorado, appears eager for the challenges to begin.

(Photo: GCU Athletics)