Rebuilding a college sports program is generally not an overnight process – even when you’ve got the best architect in the game.
Despite better-than-average fan support this season, the Grand Canyon University soccer program found it increasingly difficult to build momentum under a new head coach as the Antelopes wrapped up the 2015 season by losing seven of their last eight games.
The Antelopes drew an average 1,039 fans for each of their homes games – 28th best in the country – for a team that had been picked to finish eighth in the Western Athletic Conference, and finished even worse, 10th out of 11 teams. But they won four of their seven home games, which apparently was enough to keep the fans coming back.
Now a new day is dawning for the program with the beginning of a new year. And the addition last week of a local standout to next season’s roster signals a major step forward in a promised emphasis on mining in-state talent.
First-year head coach Schellas Hyndman just announced the signing of Musa Morris Demos, who played at Sandra Day O’Connor High School, where he was named the Gatorade Arizona Boys’ Soccer Player of the Year. The Liberia native is already on campus at the small Christian college in west Phoenix, getting ready for off-season workouts.
Hyndman, recognized as one of the best college coaches in the country, suffered through a 7-10 inaugural season that included three conference wins. That was two more overall wins than last year, but the disappointing close to the season took some of the air out of that balloon.
That’s hard to take for a man that spent 24 seasons as the head coach at Southern Methodist University – and never had a losing season. Hyndman spent 31 years as a college coach and another six years coaching the MLS team, FC Dallas.
His predecessor at GCU, Petar Draksin, led the school to five Pacific West Conference titles in the seven years before GCU left Division II play to begin a four-year transition to D-I. The first two years of the transition didn’t go well, as the ‘Lopes won four games the first season and five last year.
That’s when the school decided to bring in Hyndman to take over the job of getting the program ready to compete with the big boys. There is one more season left to complete the four-year probationary period.
Hyndman made it clear when he was hired almost a year ago to the day that his top priority was tapping into the local pool of talent. “Phoenix is an absolute hotbed for soccer, and all those players are looking to go to college and play somewhere,” he said shortly after he began laying the groundwork for rebuilding the program. “It’s a tribute to Grand Canyon to say varsity soccer is important to us and let’s make every attempt to keep players in-state and make it a good program.”
The acquisition of Demos is a big step toward enticing even more local athletes to consider GCU. “As a player, he fits our system perfectly and will bring athleticism, skill, and drive to our midfield.”
Demos, who twice was named a first-team All-State selection, contributed 16 goals and seven assists in O’Connor’s drive to the 2015 state finals, and finished his prep career with 63 goals and 43 assists.
Hyndman also picked up some seasoned talent right after the season concluded, signing a junior college All-American in November to provide some immediate impact for a team that loses seven seniors to graduation.
Khadim Seye is an experienced midfielder that is transferring in from New York’s Monroe College, which was the No. 3 JUCO program in the country and played for the NJCAA National Championship in 2014.
“He’s a big, athletic center midfielder who fills an immediate need for us,” explained Hyndman, “as we continue to build off the solid foundation we have established this season.”
But the acquisition of Demos could have greater impact going forward. It could be the beginning of future success in convincing other top local talent to stay home and play at GCU, which is the only Division I college in the state that offers men’s soccer.
(Photo: GCU Athletics)