R.C. LaHaye has just taken the Grand Canyon University wrestling team where it’s never been before. The Antelopes were given a No. 2 national ranking in a poll released yesterday -just seven points behind No. 1 Newberry, which received 54.
The ranking, based on the Basford Division II National Wrestling Poll, is the highest in the history of the program.
LaHaye is in his sixth season as head coach and has steadily moved the program up the national rankings ladder. He’s also the only head coach in the program’s history, so it’s still a young program.
But he has wasted no time in establishing the program as a competitor on the national stage. Last season the ‘Lopes finished third at the NCAA Division II championships and entered this campaign with a No. 5 national ranking.
The 2011-12 squad produced two individual national champions as it set a new school record for dual-meet victories with 19.
LaHaye’s success on the recruiting trail is reaping huge rewards as the GCU program earns national recognition and is able to promote a solid, winning program to potential recruits. Last year’s class was ranked as the fifth-best in the nation at the D-II level – and this year’s batch of recruits are ranked No. 4.
The young coach, who is a native of Payson and won three state championships while attending Payson High School, has raised three national champions and 11 All-Americans while at GCU.
He has one of those national champions back this year. Kyle McCrite, a senior who tied the school record last year with 38 wins, is the defending title-holder at 125 pounds.
This year’s squad also includes four wrestlers that are among the top eight in their respective weight classes, based on the latest National Wrestling Association poll. In addition to McCrite at No. 2, Bobby Ward, a returning All-American, is ranked No. 3 at 149 pounds and Tyrell Fortune holds the same ranking in the heavyweight division. The other is Celic Bell, also an All-American from last year, who is ranked No. 4 at 197 pounds.
McCrite wrestled at 133 in the last match but still posted a 6-2 decision as the ‘Lopes defeated Embry-Riddle, 25-15, in a home dual. There were only three starters in the line-up as the squad was looking ahead to the Dec. 16 Tournament of Champions in Reno, Nev.
Kory DeBerry, one of the most recognized names in Arizona wrestling circles, sealed the win with a 3-2 victory at 157 pounds.
DeBerry is a four-time state prep champion from Sunnyside High School in Tucson who spent a year at Arizona State before transferring to Grand Canyon. He and his family helped build Sunnyside into a prep wrestling dynasty in this state. The school won 29 state titles, 15 of those during the head-coaching reign of his father, Bobby. And his older brother, Kyle, contributed four more individual titles.
The competition will ratchet up a notch when the team travels to Reno to compete in the TOC. The ‘Lopes will face some of the better wrestlers in the country, as the event includes schools from all NCAA divisions, and the NAIA schools as well.
But LaHaye relishes that kind of competition. “As a team, we expect to compete every week like we’re going to win a national title,” he said back in early November as the season was about to get underway.
And now, his Antelopes are closer to that goal than they have ever been before.
(Photo: Colorado State University Pueblo)