Trent May has GCU women’s basketball adjusting to D-I

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                </div>  It’s really pretty impressive what Trent May is doing at Grand Canyon University. If you look at the latest standings in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), you wouldn’t think […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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It’s really pretty impressive what Trent May is doing at Grand Canyon University.

If you look at the latest standings in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), you wouldn’t think his women’s basketball team, sitting in seventh place at 2-3, has accomplished much in its first year of competition at the Division I level.  And that’s to be expected when you move up to a new level of play.

But you have to look deeper to appreciate what May is doing.

May, who is in his seventh year as the Antelopes’ head coach, built the program into a national power as a Division II school.  He has posted winning seasons in each year since arriving from Kansas where he had similar results.  In his six years at Bethany College, an NAIA school in Lindsborg, he took that team to two national tournament appearances and one Sweet 16 appearance, set a school single-season record for wins, and was twice named the conference Coach of the Year.

When we was hired at GCU, May picked up right where he left off in Kansas, winning five Pacific West Conference titles in six years and winning Coach of the Year honors four times.  Five of his GCU teams have made it to the NCAA Tournament, with one going all the way to the Sweet 16.  His 23-9 finish last year marked the third 20-win season in a row.

Understandably, everyone had expected a fall-off after the school decided to move up to Division I; this year began the four-year transition process to full accreditation.  Recruiting would be more difficult for awhile because May couldn’t even offer the opportunity to play in another NCAA Tournament since the school can’t participate in the big tourney during the transition.

But this year’s squad didn’t buy into that.  They started the season by scoring 92 points in the exhibition game against Western State and then won their first six games to set a new school record for starts as May attempted to blend seven newcomers with seven returning players.

He built a roster that could compete at the higher level of play by adding some seasoned talent.  Half of the six-player recruiting class for his first year in D-I were transfers with college experience already under their belts.

The result was a team that could score the ball, have enough experience to be able to make big comebacks and win tight games, and – most importantly – play defense.  The defense this year is ranked No. 1 in the WAC and was responsible for a near-upset in the last game with Idaho, the first-place team in the conference.  The ‘Lopes, 13-5 on the season, held the Vandals, who average 86 points a game, to just 58 in a four-point road loss.

And they’re doing it without their top scorer, Judy Jones, whose season ended earlier this month when she blew out her ACL in a game against LIU Brooklyn as the new year got underway.  Jones, who transferred in last year from the University of Texas Pan American, was named the 2013 PacWest Player of the Year.

The ‘Lopes lost their next two games without their senior leader on the floor – but came within a whisker of winning them both.  They lost to Texas Pan American by two points and to New Mexico State by three.  But they rebounded with a 14-point win over Bakersfield and beat Utah Valley by 37 points.

It showed they had begun making the adjustment to losing Jones, something good teams often have to do.

And two nights ago, they took first-place WAC opponent, Idaho, to the wire.  GCU was ahead by two at the half and it took a 7-0 run by the Vandals to pull out the 58-54 win at Cowan Spectrum in Moscow, Idaho.

This week, the ‘Lopes moved up to No. 21 in the CollegiateInsider.com Women’s Mid-major Top 25 poll, so they’re still getting the national recognition they’ve enjoyed as a D-II program.

And, hopefully, their head coach will also begin to get the recognition he deserves for building an impressive program at a small Christian school in a state where his teams have to share the stage with some pretty good Division I basketball programs that have been there a lot longer.

If this year is any indication, it won’t take May four years to prove his teams can play at the Division I level.

(Photo: GCU Athletics)