Last season, the Grand Canyon University women’s volleyball team made its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1995.
This season, the D-II program in Phoenix has loaded up with transfers and local prep stars to take another run at the tournament. The Antelopes lost just two players to graduation, but have added six to the 2012 roster to help them get beyond the first round, where they got beat by UC San Diego last November.
Two of that group played their high school ball in Arizona, and both set school records during their prep careers.
Alexis Pomeroy was a second-team All-region selection when she played at Desert Ridge High School in Mesa, and then moved on to South Mountain Community College. The 6’1″ middle hitter set a school record at Desert Ridge for most blocks in a season.
Megan Byrnes will be joining the ‘Lopes program right out of high school. The 6’0″ middle hitter also set a record for most blocks in a season while at Basha High School in Chandler. As a senior, she led the team in kill percentage and was named to the All-section second team.
The other incoming freshman is from Salem, Ore. Chloe Jenkins, a 5’9″ setter from Salem Academy, was an All-League first team selection.
But it’s a couple of D-I transfers that will likely provide the most immediate impact on the 2012 season. Sydney McDowell is transferring in from Cal State Fullerton and MacKenzie Clark comes to GCU from Weber State, a Big Sky Conference member with Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
McDowell is a 6’3″ right-side hitter who will have one year of eligibility to give to the GCU program, while the 6’1″ Clark is an outside hitter that has two years remaining.
While at Cal State Fullerton, McDowell became only the fourth player in the program’s history to have 10 or more block assists in a match. Clark recorded 40 block assists last year at Weber State, while posting 126 kills (1.66 per set) and 48 digs.
Lanie Muys, the final addition to the roster, is transferring in from a D-II program at Barry University in Florida. She will be joining her brother, Andrew, who plays for the GCU men’s volleyball team.
Muys is a 6’1″ junior who will step in as a middle blocker for the ‘Lopes. As a sophomore, she started 27 of 28 matches at Barry and averaged 1.92 kills per set and led the team in blocks per set with .84.
As the 2012 season approaches, the ‘Lopes will be coming off a rocket ride from last year. The squad finished 2011 with a 22-7 mark, the most wins since the 1999 season, and closed out the regular season by setting a school record by winning their last 14 consecutive matches.
After reaching the 2011 NCAA tournament for the first time in 16 years, head coach Kris Naber reflected on the progress the program is making. “Now we know what it feels like,” she said at the time. “And this is where we want to be.”
Last year, the ‘Lopes weren’t given the respect they deserved. They finished as the runner-up in the Pacific West Conference, but had been picked in the pre-season to finish in sixth place.
This year, they aren’t as likely to be overlooked.
(Photo: GCU Athletics/ Jak Keyser)