Arizona Christian recruiting athletes for new track program

The Firestorm is spreading in north Phoenix.

Arizona Christian University, aka the Firestorm, just added men’s and women’s track & field to its growing stable of athletic offerings.  That increases the number of sports programs to 14 for the private Christian college formerly known as Southwestern College, and marks the next step in a major re-branding effort that is being pegged to its sports programs.

It’s good news for local athletes because Arizona Christian recruits heavily from the pool of talent in Arizona.  There are eight names on the men’s cross-country roster and six of them are from in-state schools, four coming to ACU through Arizona community colleges.   And half of the women’s six-person roster are from Arizona.

A baseball program was also just added at the school, kicking off play with the 2011 season.  That team started with 10 in-state athletes on the roster and, this year, carries 19 locals.

In addition to adding more sports opportunities, the school is bringing in high-profile coaching talent to try to turn around some of its struggling programs.

Doyle Wilson, a former Major League player who built Chandler-Gilbert Community College into a national contender, was hired to direct the baseball program this season.  And Jerry Conner, a hall-of-fame basketball coach who spent 32 years directing the Shadow Mountain High School program, has taken the reins of the women’s basketball program.

The head coach for the new track program will be Caleb Lynch, the school’s cross country coach.  Lynch, too, has local roots as a two-time state champion in the 800 meters during his prep career at Washington High School in Phoenix.  His college career was spent at Azusa Pacific University in California, where he was an All-American 14 times and a five-time national champion.

Lynch has been the head coach for the boys’ program for three years, and has been coaching the girls’ team the past two years.

ACU, an NAIA Division I participant, placed sixth last season at its conference meet and then went on to finish 10th among the 30 schools competing in the National Christian College Athletics Association Men’s Cross Country Championships.

Brooks Swigart was the lone qualifier for the NAIA National Championships but, in doing so, the junior from Shadow Mountain High School became the school’s first national qualifier in any sport since it joined the NAIA in 2008.

“(Swigart’s) qualification for nationals is a huge lift for our team and will greatly affect the future of this program,” said Lynch after the November competition in Washington.

Swigart, who also competed for Paradise Valley Community College, will be back next year to bring some star power to a new track & field program.  And it looks like Lynch is beginning to fill out the rest of the roster with some new talent.

He just announced the signing of Mart Brown, who will run cross country in the fall for the Firestorm, and then compete in the 800 meters on the first track team next spring.  Brown is another local product, just finishing up his senior year at Cienega High School in Vail.

It’s the start to a roster that is sure to include a good share of Arizona athletes.

(Photo: ACU Athletics)