Pair of GCU athletes thriving in player-coach roles
By: Julie Laugel and Mack Drake
Long live the player-coach.
At the professional level, player-coaches haven’t been seen since the days of Pete Rose managing the Cincinnati Reds while simultaneously serving as a backup infielder in 1986.
When it comes to the Grand Canyon University Club Sports programs, player-coaches aren’t quite as rare.
Among the best are GCU Swimming’s Bella Montiel and GCU Spikeball’s Devon Mitchell. Whether in the pool or at the spikeball net, both player-coaches have made a splash with their respective programs. For their work on and off the field, Montiel and Mitchell earned the nod as this month’s Athletes of the Month.
Club Swimming & Club Artistic Swimming: Bella Montiel
Bella Montiel has played many roles within Grand Canyon University Club Sports. While pursuing her degree in Early Childhood Education, she has also participated in and acted as a student coach on the GCU Club Swimming and GCU Club Artistic Swimming teams.
Beginning artistic swimming at the age of eight, Montiel was looking for something to keep her busy during the summer. What she found, however, was a lifelong passion. She participated on the Meraquas of Irvine and competed at the national level up until she went to college. Montiel’s career as a swimmer developed later when she began swimming during her sophomore year in high school for the Mater Dei High School swim team in Santa Ana, California.
Now heading into her junior year at GCU, Montiel joined the club swimming team her freshman year and began student coaching for GCU Club Swimming and GCU Club Artistic Swimming during her sophomore year. With GCU Club Artistic Swimming being one of the newest additions to GCU Club Sports, Montiel has also helped get the program running, recruit athletes, and will participate on the team.
“Club sports has offered me leadership and involvement that I never thought would be possible in a big university,” said Montiel. “It has helped me to learn so many valuable life skills – including working with others, compromising, working together and, most importantly, encouraging my athletes.”
Although much of her time is spent in the pool, Montiel still manages to keep up with school work and social activities as well. After graduation, she hopes to one day become a kindergarten teacher or open her own daycare center.
“Being a part of club sports and being in leadership has helped me to feel completely involved in my experience at GCU, meet people I never would have, and develop friendships I know will be long-lasting,” said Montiel. “While I’m at GCU, I want to continue to help the club swim and artistic swim programs grow and become successful, while also graduating with high grades and getting a good starting point for my future career.”
To prepare for the upcoming school year and club seasons, Montiel continues to work on bettering her skills through practicing and improving flexibility while also refining her coaching skills by coming up with drills and activities for both club teams.
Co-ed Spikeball: Devon Mitchell
Many GCU Club Sports programs are originally started by students who simply want to have fun and keep their competitive juices flowing.
For Devon Mitchell, there was something more to it.
“I mostly wanted to give new students a place to come out, have fun and be part of a tight community,” said Mitchell, a player-coach who started the GCU Spikeball team two years ago on the intramural level. “It can be lonely when you first begin college, especially if you’re from a different area, and I wanted to provide an accepting community for students to meet new people and have a good time.”
Like most people, Mitchell, who grew up playing several sports in sunny Vista, California, didn’t know a thing about spikeball until he saw a few people playing the game in a grassy field on a fellowship retreat during his senior year of high school in 2016.
After later joining in on a few games, he was hooked.
“If beach volleyball and four-square had a baby, they would name it spikeball,” Mitchell said with a laugh. “The best part about the game is the teamwork and cooperation that is required. It takes great communication between you and your teammate to be successful.”
Sometimes referred to as roundnet, spikeball is normally played in a 2-vs-2 format with players positioned around a small, circular net. A ball – roughly the size of a softball – is served into the net by one team, while the other has three hits to bounce the ball back off the net. If done successfully, play continues until one team fails to return the ball back to the net.
After arriving at GCU in 2017, Mitchell, his roommate and a small group from campus decided to compete in local tournaments on their own. The team won several events, including the 2017 Fall Southwest Regional Championship.
Inspired by the success, Mitchell officially started the club spikeball program on campus a few years later. This past year, in its first season of operation at the club level, the Lopes captured several top finishes in the Spikeball Roundnet Association (SRA), including a first-place finish at the Pacific Northwest Fall Regional tournament in March at George Fox University in Portland, Oregon.
“That was a great way to start the year,” Mitchell said. “It gave us a lot of confidence heading into the remainder of the season.”
GCU went on to add a pair of fourth-place finishes at the fall and spring editions of the SRA Southwest Sectional Tournament, which were hosted by California Polytechnic University SLO (San Luis Obispo) and Loyola Marymount University, respectively.
A sports fan at heart, Mitchell wants to work for a professional team after earning his degree in Sports Management with an Emphasis in Business Analytics later this fall. Until then, he’s focused on continuing to develop the spikeball program.
“It’s all about bringing people together,” Mitchell said. “I like to serve others, and this is a great way to do that. We want to bring more attention to spikeball and make it more than just a hobby. That’s the vision.”
Interested in joining GCU club sports? Click here to learn all about it!