GCU hosts nation’s top wrestling programs in new arena

The Grand Canyon grapplers are having a big house-warming party today in their new home, and decided to invite some celebrities to help them celebrate being back in town for the first time in almost two months.

And we can all watch the festivities on our computers.

Some of the top Division II wrestling programs in the country began competition this morning in the new 135,000 sq. ft. arena on the campus of Grand Canyon University in west Phoenix.  Streaming video provided by AmericaOne Network is enabling Antelope fans to follow the action live.

The arena, which opened in time for this school year, is part of a $60 million expansion program at the Christian-based school.  It seats 5,000 for basketball, but also provides a great environment for wrestling and other sports.

GCU is the No. 5-ranked wrestling program in the country at the NCAA Division II level and has invited the No. 1 team, Newberry College, and the No. 3 team, St. Cloud State, to participate in the duals hosted by the Antelopes.

Also on the guest list are Mercyhurst College, the No. 8 team, and No. 18 Colorado Mesa.  California Baptist will also be there.  The Lancers are not ranked in the D-II polls but are the No. 1 team in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association.

This is the first time the ‘Lopes have been able to wrestle at home since they began their 2011-12 schedule back on Nov. 5, when they participated in the Roadrunner Open in Bakersfield, Calif.  And the quality of competition that has been invited indicates they plan to make the most of it.

They are coming off solid performances earlier this month, beginning with a 30-6 victory over Embry-Riddle, the No. 16-ranked team in the NAIA poll.  The Lopes won nine of 10 matches against the Prescott school.

Just days later, GCU jumped into the Colorado Mesa Open and came back with five titles after placing seven wrestlers in the finals.  Titles went to Kyle McCrite (125), Bobby Ward (149), Brett Sanchez (184), Jordan Johnson (285), and Victor Carazo, who was wrestling unattached at 174.

GCU, under head coach R.C. LaHaye, has developed a national presence in the four short years it has been in existence.  The Lopes finished last season with a 17-4 record, piling up the second-most wins in the country, and a No. 9 national ranking.

The program had seven NCAA qualifiers last year and five All-Americans.  Todd Wilcox, wrestling at 133, also gave the Lopes their first national champion.

LaHaye’s recruiting class this year was ranked No. 5 in the country by Wrestling USA Magazine.  He added a couple of junior college and Division I transfers to the roster to give the program added depth.

The moves have paid off so far.  Their only loss in duals this season came against Division-I Arizona State University in mid-November.

But today will give LaHaye a good idea of just where his program stands on the national level.  The Lopes open against No. 8 Mercyhurst, which is 4-0 in duals.

(Photo: GCU Athletics)