There is probably no better measuring stick for Steve Schaffer‘s success the past three years at Grand Canyon University than the progress of the women’s swim program.
The men’s and women’s head coach took over in July of 2008, becoming the swimming and diving program’s second head coach. Since then, the Antelopes have begun a steady climb that culminated in a fourth-place finish last year at the NCAA Championships for the men’s team and a 10th place for the women.
The women had climbed from a 31st place finish at the NCAAs the year before.
For his efforts, Schaffer was named the 2011 NCAA Division II Men’s Swimming Coach of the Year and the RMAC Women’s Coach of the Year.
Last season was considered the most successful in the program’s history. And this year, both teams are ranked No. 3 in the nation, based on the latest coaches’ poll. The men entered the season’s first poll in early November in third place, but the women came in at No. 5 and have climbed to their current spot.
Both teams have six returning swimmers that earned All-American honors last year.
Going into the new year, the ‘Lopes will be carrying some momentum into their Jan. 7 duals with US San Diego in California. Both teams won their dual meets against California Baptist before Christmas and, more importantly, had impressive showings at the competitive Husky Invitational in Washington before that, as the men finished in first and the women took second place.
A flurry of school records fell – 27 combined between the two teams – during the Husky Invite.
Several local high school recruits made major contributions to the women’s success at the event, as Mychala Lynch from Xavier Prep in Phoenix and Jaclyn Branning from Paradise Valley High each set individual marks.
Lynch, a senior, posted a new school record with a time of 50.77 in her fifth-place finish in the 100 freestyle. Branning is a junior who has set several school records, this time besting the previous record in the 200 breaststroke by nearly five seconds, hitting a time of 2:21.98.
In the 400 free relay, Lynch joined with another local athlete, Catherine Polito from Mingus Union High School in Cottonwood, to set a new school record as the team finished second in that event. Lynch and Polito joined with Stacey Rudman (Kansas) and Samantha Magnani (California) to post a time of 3:25.38.
On the men’s side, it was an international effort, as Eetu Karvonen from Finland, Ivan Nechunaev from Russia, and Brazil’s Everton Kida all set school records.
Nechunaev, swimming in his final collegiate season, took a first place in the 200 fly and set a school record of 1:47.67 in the process. The senior was also the high-point winner for the GCU men.
Karvonen, a junior, cut a full six seconds off the school record in the 200 breast. His time of 1:57.35 also shaved a half-second off the meet record. Kida, a sophomore from Sao Paulo, finished second in the 200 backstroke with a time of 1:49.04.
The performances at the Husky Invitational is a big step in preparing the GCU teams for the NCAA Championships.
“We will add more kids to the NCAA team later in the season at our conference meet,” said Schaffer, “but getting this many kids (qualified) this early is a huge success in setting us up to be able to compete for team titles at the NCAA’s.”
(Photo: GCU Athletics/ Deb Schaffer)