The Grand Canyon University wrestling program was unable to get back to the 19 dual-meet victories it posted last year, which set a school record. But the Antelopes have a good chance to do even better at the national championships in a couple of weeks.
GCU is sending five wrestlers to the March 8-9 NCAA Division II Championships in Alabama to try and duplicate – or better – last year’s success when the school produced two national champions.
And two of those making the trip to Birmingham are local athletes from Phoenix-area high schools.
Lino Estrada and Mike Hamel contributed to the school’s second-place team finish at the weekend’s Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) and a third place in the region. Estrada, a three-time state champion while at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, finished runner-up at 133 pounds. Hamel, a two-time state champion at Mesquite High School in Gilbert, took fourth place at 141.
Estrada is a redshirt junior and Hamel is a redshirt sophomore who was recruited out of high school to the University of Wyoming and transferred in to the west Phoenix college after posting a 10-13 record with the Cowboys last year.
But it was Tyrell Fortune, the junior-college transfer, who brought home the lone title for the ‘Lopes and has a good chance of picking up a national championship in Birmingham. Fortune won the title in the 285 class and was also named the RMAC Wrestler of the Year.
“He’s really wrestling well right now and is wrestling at another level,” said his head coach, R.C. LaHaye, after Fortune’s performance over the weekend. The big man, who was born on the Fourth of July, will take his fireworks show – and a 33-1 record – into the national competition.
The other GCU grapplers heading for the nationals are Kyle McCrite, who finished runner-up at 125, and Bobby Ward, who took third at 149. McCrite entered the weekend with a 16-12 mark and is the defending national champion at 125; he’s ranked No. 6 nationally. Ward is ranked No. 8, compiled a 16-4 mark during the season, and had won seven straight matches before the RMAC/Region tournament.
Grand Canyon finished its dual season with a 14-6 record and had climbed to the No. 2 national ranking in the Basford Division II National Wrestling Poll in mid-December. The record was not as gaudy as last year, but the No. 2 ranking was the best in the history of the program.
This year, the ‘Lopes finished the regular season at No. 8 in the final Basford and No. 19 in the National Wrestling Coaches Association poll.
“I’m really proud of our team effort (at the RMAC/Region),” says LaHaye. “To take second place (RMAC) and third in the region with five guys… it was a good overall effort. We’ve overcome some adversity and want to go to the national tournament and finish the year strong.
“I feel we’ve got a good tournament team and confident in the five guys we’re taking (to Birmingham).”
(Photo: GCU Athletics/ Jak Keyser)