Grand Canyon University didn’t just stick its toe in the water as it waded into Division I athletics this season to mark its move up from Division II. Instead, the Antelopes jumped in with both feet – so to speak.
While the soccer program struggled to make the adjustment as the fall sports programs rolled out, the basketball and track programs more than compensated.
Women’s basketball just won its 19th game and is sitting in third place in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). The ‘Lopes have two games left on the regular-season schedule, and both are at home, so a 20-win season in the first year of D-I play is within reach.
And the men’s new head hoops coach, Dan Majerle, has also led his squad to a third-place spot in the WAC and, with a couple of games left, could finish in second place – in a season when most observers had predicted his program would finish in last place. His team is 9-5 in conference play and coming off the momentum of Saturday’s 84-74 win on Senior Night to move into the final week.
Both teams have energized their fan base by winning at home. The women’s team is 9-1 in the two-year-old GCU Arena and the men have won eight of 11 on their own court, and play to a packed house each night.
But the real excitement right now is centered around the track & field program that just returned from the University of Idaho, which hosted this year’s WAC Indoor Championships. The ‘Lopes earned the honor of winning outright the school’s first-ever Division I conference championship – and in just the fourth year of the program’s existence.
The women’s team tallied 166.50 points to run away from University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC), the runner-up with 144.50 points.
And a single point kept the men’s team from making it a sweep. The men found themselves in a tight race throughout the three-day event that ended on Friday, going to the wire with Idaho right down through the final field events. But the ‘Lopes had to settle for a runner-up finish as Idaho totaled 173 points to GCU’s 172.
“It was a heartbreaking way to lose the men’s title,” said head coach Tom Flood, “but our men battled all the way through the final events and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
There was plenty of pride to go around on both men’s and women’s teams. For the women, the multitude of top-five places included a handful of gold-medal performances and a fair share of school and conference records.
Shavine Hodges, who is considered the fastest woman in GCU program history after posting times of 7.35 seconds in the 60-meter dash and 23.88 in the 200 meters, won both events at the WAC Championships. She also finished the season as the WAC women’s High Point Performer of the Year.
She was joined on the top of the presentation stand by other first-place winners: Moya McKenzie (400 meters), Jelena Andielkovic (800m), and Brianne Kee (long jump). Jessica Yates tied her own school record of 1.65 meters in winning the silver in the high jump and Vanessa Levy broke another school record by recording 18.45 meters to take second in the weight throw.
Pole Vaulter Jennifer Rolph was named the WAC Freshman of the Year.
And both teams won their 4×400 relay races, with the women finishing in 3:44.13 and the men taking the gold with a time of 3:11.6 – which set new conference and school records.
There were also six individual titles on the men’s side, including Jahliell Wiltshire (60m hurdles), Stephan Bullard (800m), Kevin Lashley (long jump), and Lance Parker (200m). And Tyler Vandyke won both the 5,000m and 3,000m runs.
Vandyke was named the men’s Track Performer of the Year and then split the High Point Performer of the Year award with Lashley.
And for his work this year, Flood was named the WAC Women’s Track & Field Coach of the Year.
Flood expressed his gratitude for the honor: “For a guy that grew up in Phoenix and knows the background of GCU (the school was nearly forced to close in early 2000), I feel truly blessed to have the opportunity to help bring GCU its first Division I title in program history.”
The man who started the track & field program in 2010 will have little time to rest on his laurels. The outdoor season begins in three weeks.
(Photo: GCU Athletics)