All dressed up and nowhere to go. That’s what it must feel like for the baseball and softball players at Grand Canyon University.
The Antelopes’ baseball team won 20 conference games to win the Western Athletic Conference title outright, while the women finished the 2017 season with an 11-4 record and a share of the conference crown.
But that’s the end of the road for this year. No conference tournament. No NCAA Tournament.
GCU has just completed the final year of a four-year transition from Division II to a fully-accredited D-I program. During that time, all of its sports teams were ineligible for conference and NCAA post-season play.
It’s one thing when you’re still developing your game in preparation for the next level. But GCU has been very successful on the ball diamond during the transition phase. That’s when it really hurts to know you won’t be rewarded for your hard-earned accomplishments.
The softball team kicked off its first season in the transition period by winning the WAC crown and then posted runner-up finishes in 2015 and 2016.
There has been a steady increase in total softball wins from 2015 through this year, when the ‘Lopes won all eight conference series and swept four of those.
During the four-year transition, head coach Ann Pierson, who started the program 15 years ago, has been named WAC Coach of the Year twice – including this season – and three times while at GCU.
Andy Stankiewicz, former assistant coach at Arizona State and seven-year MLB veteran, took over the baseball program in April, 2011, after the school fired its head coach 18 games into the schedule and turned it over to an interim head coach for the remainder of the season.
Stankiewicz guided his program to a 29-win season this year and compiled a 20-4 conference mark. The .833 winning percentage is the best by a WAC team since 2003.
And, like Pierson, Stankiewicz wasted no time showing that GCU, a small Christian college in west Phoenix, can play with the big boys. The 2014 team finished with 30 wins and was the WAC runner-up in the first year of transition. The next year, GCU posted a 32-22 season and 19-7 in conference play, good enough for the WAC title.
This year’s squad duplicated softball’s conference performance, also winning all eight conference series, which was the first time a baseball team had accomplished that feat in the history of the program. The .833 conference winning percentage was also the best in school history.
But now, when both teams should be heavily involved in the post-season, most of those players will be scattering to other parts of the country, looking for summer leagues to hone their skills for next season.
For them, the 2018 school season can’t come soon enough. It will mark a new era in GCU sports history.
And a chance to enjoy the fruits of their labors for the first time in four years.
(Photo: GCU Athletics)