As the Grand Canyon University sports programs get ready to begin the first season of fully-accredited Division I play, following a four-year transition period from Division II, it’s interesting to see how the move is dictating a change in recruiting tactics.
We just reported on the shift to an emphasis on out-of-state recruiting in the women’s basketball program. Now it’s men’s volleyball that has begun throwing a wider recruiting net, so wide that it is scooping up talent from other countries.
While it’s not good news for the local high school graduates that saw the small Christian college in west Phoenix as a viable option for a college career, it’s a move born of necessity for the coaches who must now compete against a different level of talent.
Matt Werle took over the men’s volleyball program as head coach last season and relied on recruiting efforts that were already in the pipeline. That was the final year in the transition phase and Werle brought aboard three new recruits – all with Arizona roots.
That 2017 trio included Drake Silbernagel, Zachary Melcher, and David Kisiel. Silbernagel was a Deer Valley High School graduate that played for Arizona State and then transferred back to GCU to compete as a graduate student. Melcher, a Chandler Hamilton High grad, and Kisiel, from Ironwood High School in Glendale, are back on this year’s roster.
Kisiel, a 6’6″ outside hitter, came in as a freshman after leading the state in hitting percentage as a prep standout. Melcher, another 6’6″ setter, transferred in from California Baptist University and will be a senior this season.
As it turned out, that group helped the Antelopes to a 19-11 season that included program-bests in overall wins and conference wins. The 2017 team also earned a national ranking for the first time, finishing the season at No. 14.
The 2018 recruiting class, announced last week, will add seven new faces to the line-up – but only one of those recruits comes from an Arizona high school. Trevor Weary, an outside hitter from Horizon Honors High School in Phoenix, was an early November signee and considered one of the best in the state at his position. He led Horizon to the 2016 5A state semifinals and the state finals last season.
There will be one other local standout on the 2018 roster as 6’4″ outside hitter Cody Williams returns for his senior season. Williams, a member of the Boulder Creek High School (Anthem) state champion in 2014, played in 24 games for GCU last season, starting in 13 of those.
The program continues to develop more of an international flavor, with recruits in this class from Hawaii, Turkey, Belgium, and Russia. Already on board are three more players from Hawaii and one from Israel.
And that’s somewhat surprising since just last year Werle stressed the need for local talent.
Werle spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons as a graduate assistant on the GCU coaching staff and was hired the next year as an assistant coach. He left to take over as head coach at Mesa Community College for two years before returning to the GCU program and being named interim head coach for the 2016 season. Last year the interim tag was removed.
He was proud of the fact that he was able to add three local players when taking over last season. “We want Arizona boy volleyball players to grow up dreaming of playing at GCU,” he said at the time.
We’ll have to see whether Werle is willing to continue with that recruiting philosophy once the ‘Lopes begin playing with the big boys.
(Photo: GCU Athletics)