Dan Majerle has cast his recruiting nets far and wide to build his Grand Canyon University men’s basketball roster – and that includes lo-o-ong recruiting trips to Australia. The third-year head coach at GCU actually has two players from Down Under, as well as a few from Canada, Senegal, Montenegro, and Spain.
But Steve Schaffer, who is finishing his eighth year running the GCU swimming and diving program, has built the ultimate international roster at the small Christian school in west Phoenix that is competing in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) as it transitions to full Division I status.
Schaffer’s teams feature athletes recruited from such distant locales as Russian, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Egypt on the men’s roster. And Bulgaria, Mexico, Belgium, and Lithuania on the women’s side.
And that long-distance recruiting effort is paying off for both programs.
The collection of imports for basketball is averaging a combined 32 points a game; Grandy Glaze from Ontario, Canada, is the second-leading scorer on the team with 14.3 points a game. The result: the Antelopes are 19-3 and tied for first place (6-1) in the WAC.
The swim program is also taking full advantage of its international mix. Over the weekend, the men’s and women’s teams combined for nine first-place finishes on the road in Indiana at the Shamrock Invitational at Notre Dame, and set three new school marks and five pool records at the event.
Mark Nikolaev, a freshman from Seltso, Russia, contributed to five victories as the men’s team went 3-0 Saturday afternoon when the invitational was set up in a dual-meet format. The ‘Lopes defeated No. 25 Notre Dame, Iowa, and Missouri State.
Nikolaev’s winning time of 46.33 in the 100-yard backstroke broke both the school and pool records. His time was the 13th-fastest in Division I so far this season.
He set another school record by clocking 21.84 in the 50-yard backstroke while swimming the lead-off leg of the 200-yard medley relay. The team replaced the pool record in the event, formerly held by Michigan, by finishing in a winning time of 1:27.67.
Nikolaev also won the 200 backstroke (26.90) and the 100 butterfly (47.35), and then helped the 400 freestyle relay team win that event in a time of 2:55.21 that set another school record.
And a teammate from Alexandria, Egypt, notched a couple other wins. Junior Mazen Elkamash claimed the top spots in the 100 freestyle (43.84) and 800 freestyle (6:37.37).
It was a sophomore from Cuidad Juarez, Mexico, that made the major contributions for the women’s team, which finished 1-2, beating Illinois State but losing to Notre Dame and Iowa.
Estela Davis Ortiz won two events and took runner-up in another, and also helped two relay teams to second-place finishes. Davis Ortiz captured the 100 backstroke in 55.13 and the 200 back with a time of 1:58.11.
This event was the last of the regular season for the men’s team, while the women have one dual meet left on the schedule, a home meet against Idaho at the end of the week. And then it’s time to begin preparation for the WAC Championships, where both teams posted fourth-place finishes last year.
But Schaffer is anticipating a higher finish for the men, and possibly the women as well. “I think they are ready to make a significant improvement in the WAC Championship placing this year,” he said about his women’s squad, “and I am very excited for the progress they have shown this year.”
About the men: “We definitely have room to improve before the WAC meet, but we are definitely on the right track…so we will now be focused on bringing our workload down and continuing to refine our racing strategies and skills.”
The teams will have a few weeks to get ready for the WAC Championships, which begins Feb. 24 in Houston, TX, and runs three days.
(Photo: GCU Athletics)