The players who were part of Grand Canyon University’s first club women’s volleyball season entered the school year with unknowns for what the spring would bring but from through a fall of practices.
By January, they had an accomplished head coach. By March, they had a conference championship.
Along the way, they also had a good time as coach Kris Naber and the Lopes laid a foundation for a club women’s volleyball program with more to come.
“For the first turnaround and not having it planned, to win a Vegas tournament and the conference championship of the Mountain West (Volleyball Conference) shows where the program can go or will go,” Naber said. “It also shows that we can bring high-level skilled athletes and form them into a team pretty quickly.”
The Lopes took first place in the conference’s season-opening tournament in Las Vegas in January, beating Air Force in the championship match. GCU won the conference championship in March in Grand Junction, Colo., where it only lost two sets in the tournament and downed Colorado Mesa for the title.
Lopes sophomore outside hitter Sarah Sperbeck, freshman outside hitter Malia Papineau and freshman libero Kylie Cox were named to the all-tournament team while senior Bailey Goodart received an honorable mention.
The conference championship team also included setter Olivia Brunt, middle blocker Gabby Groll, middle blocker DD Rigano, outside hitter Marielle Ocampo, libero Chantelle Iloretta and outside hitter Amy Bartimoccia.
“I’m blown away by GCU Club Sports and its impact on all GCU students,” said Brunt, a freshman who graduated from Phoenix O’Connor High School. “It’s a really cool way to involve as many students as possible. They can play the sports they love in a fun but competitive way.
“Especially as a freshman, it gave me a way to have a friend group and a team that I could trust and play with day in and day out. It was just like playing for a team but in a smaller setting.”
The team also had the benefit of playing for Naber, a coach who was a NAIA All-American and NCAA head coach at Grand Canyon.
“The success that the girls had and the positive experiences that the current club had has created a vast amount of interest from current students,” Naber said. “The girls are having fun, enjoying what they’re doing and how they’re being coaches and how they still get to compete in tournaments. The culture that we’re striving to build is one that will attract current and incoming students.”