Both student-athletes working on craft despite COVID-19 setback
By: Mack Drake/Garrett Osterode
Although the coronavirus pandemic prematurely ended spring sports around the country, Grand Canyon University student-athletes are still perfecting their craft.
Two of those players are GCU Men’s Rugby fly-half Royce Fisher and GCU Club Softball’s Carla Stroh. Both players earned GCU Club Sports May Athlete of the Month awards.
Men’s Rugby: Royce Fisher
Up 13-10 in the final moments of extra time, Royce Fisher and his Grand Canyon University Men’s Rugby teammates were desperately holding on for dear life.
California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo was slowly moving their way up the field. There was no mistaking the consequences of the situation: a Cal Poly try would send the Lopes home with a gut-wrenching loss in their season opener this past January at GCU Stadium. A final defensive stand would mean a well-earned Lopes’ victory.
Fisher, a fly-half who patrols the middle of the field for GCU, was barking defensive orders to his comrades, but the Lopes were operating at a disadvantage after one of its players was sent off with a red card in the first half.
“The odds were already stacked against us,” Fisher reflected. “We were playing our first game with a new coach, new players and a new identity. We were also a man down for most of the game. We had to show some resiliency in that moment.”
The Lopes did just that.
The Mustangs were inches away from scoring the game-winning try before GCU posted up for its best defensive stand of the season, pushing the Mustangs back until the referee blew the whistle to end the game.
“I thought that stand was a huge statement for us,” Fisher said. “That effort really showed our resilience and ability to keep fighting. The momentum we gained from that moment carried us throughout the season.”
The Lopes went on to finish the season with a 4-2 record under first-year head coach Sean O’Leary. GCU captured big wins over the University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara University and San Diego State University, and were set to take on the University of California, Berkeley in the opening round of the D1A Playoffs before the coronavirus pandemic ended the season early.
Fisher, a junior from the San Diego area, made an immediate impact – enough to be selected as a vice captain in just his first year with the program after transferring to GCU before the season.
Fisher was one of many players helping to instill O’Leary’s new culture, leading Bible studies and other team building events to enhance team chemistry.
“Culture is so important for us,” Fisher said. “If we can establish off-the-field relationships, then our on-the-field relationships become that much stronger. We try to center our culture around positivity and making sure all the boys buy in.”
The Lopes have continued to grind during the pandemic. O’Leary and his staff put together custom-made, at-home workouts that place a heavy emphasis on challenging bodyweight and speed exercises. The workouts were sent to every player on the team with new exercises appearing every week, which to Fisher means he has to maintain the team focus.
“As the captain, I need to set the standard for the boys,” Fisher said. “Especially during a pandemic like this, a lot of boys tend to slack off and not prioritize rugby. It’s important for me, and the other team leaders, to keep everybody engaged. Whether it be video meetings or just sending a simple text, we check in on everybody and make sure the boys are completing their workouts and doing well in general.”
Although he just completed his junior year, Fisher may not graduate until 2022 after switching his major from computer science to psychology last semester. Fisher’s goal is to play rugby professionally following his time at GCU, but he’s also interested in potentially working in human resources.
Women’s Softball: Clara Stroh
When it comes to GCU Club Softball, their willingness to push themselves in new ways and find creative ways to improve – on and off the field – paid dividends this past season. This attitude came to light when the team took a trip to the Phoenix Fire Academy before their season was cut short.
The team was challenged with the chance to go through fire training, carrying 120-plus pounds of equipment and completing multiple strenuous activities.
One player in particular, Clara Stroh, took this opportunity to heart and stood out amongst the rest.
“[Clara] showed a side that I have never seen before,” said Lopes’ Head Coach Lindsey Collins. “She was hustling through each obstacle with determination.”
Stroh missed most of the fall season with two stress fractures, one in each shin, so she was not able to compete with her teammates as much as she would’ve liked. Luckily, she was cleared just in time for this event and made the most of it.
“Even after a few months off from physical activity, she was the first one to help others, even when she was [struggling] herself,” said Collins. “She pushed beyond her limits while performing a physical activity that [she] has never done before.”
To cap off her excellent performance, Stroh was recognized by the Phoenix Fire Academy with the top award of “Future Firefighter”.
Stroh just completed her first year at GCU and is working on her bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering.
Interested in joining GCU club sports? Click here to learn more!