By: GCU Staff
In the final installment of our three-part season preview of the upcoming GCU Club Sports season, we discuss new beginnings for Men’s and Women’s Rugby, Men’s and Women’s Club Soccer, Club Acapella and Men’s and Women’s Club Basketball, the growth of Esports at GCU and huge expectations for both Women’s Club Volleyball and Club Baseball.
Men’s and Women’s Rugby
There’s a new sheriff in town. Twice.
Just within the last week, high expectations for both GCU Men’s and Women’s Rugby got even higher with the announcements of new head coaches for both squads. Former longtime University of Notre Dame coach Sean O’ Leary steps into the saddle for the men’s side, while former Arizona State University star Lindsey Mahoney becomes the first full-time head coach in GCU Women’s Rugby history.
The men’s team is back for its third season at the Division I level, and its sixth year overall. The Lopes went 5-1 (6-4 overall) last year – good enough for second place behind rival St. Mary’s College of Moraga in the California Conference. GCU again qualified for the DIA College Rugby Playoffs Round of 16 before falling to the Gaels in the opening round. GCU finished the season ranked No. 15 in the DIA College Rugby Top 20 Poll and returns most of its players from last year.
In its first year competing in the Pacific Desert Rugby Conference, the GCU Women‘s Rugby team took second place behind a strong finish in the conference playoff tournament last season. The women’s program enters its fourth year in existence and will look to build on a 5-1 conference record. The Lopes seek their second conference title in three years this April – despite losing six players to graduation.
The Growth of Esports
Esports is a rapidly growing industry worldwide, and Grand Canyon University is making great strides to stay up with that trend. GCU fields 17 Esports teams, contending in games such as Overwatch, League of Legends, Rainbow Six, Fortnite and Counter Strike. The club plays in the new GCU Esports Arena, which has doubled in size to match the rapid growth of the sport and the program’s presence on campus.
Esports has become so popular that many experts predict the sport will eventually rival some of the more well-known professional leagues like the NFL, MLB and NBA. The global Esports economy is expected to top $1 billion in 2019, a year-to-year growth of over 26%, according to Jurre Panakeet of New Zoo.
To this point, Esports has been more known for its professional leagues and players. Competitive Esports at the university and high school level is still relatively new, but it is also gaining steam. Colleges all over the country are beginning to install Esports teams, even offering full-ride scholarships to elite high school players.
GCU’s Esports team has been incredibly successful, even earning a spot in the ESPN Collegiate Esports Championship in May. The club had over 900 student members participating in the fall of 2018, and expect that number to grow exponentially going forward.
They are truly the ones to watch – and everyone’s doing just that.
The Grand Canyon University Women’s Club Volleyball team set high standards for the upcoming year. After a first-place finish at their season-opening home tournament last November, they continued their winning streak with a first-place finish at the Las Vegas Invitational, their third straight Mountain West Volleyball Conference title, and a first-ever National Collegiate Volleyball Federation National Championship title.
What made the title run even more special was that it was their first-ever appearance on a national stage which led them to a straight-set victory over Auburn University, 25-19, 25-17 in the title match. Several components of the championship roster – some of whom began the program three years ago – will return in 2019-20 to try to make another deep postseason run.
Meanwhile, there will be new leadership for both men’s club volleyball and club beach volleyball as Trent Bruns and Kami Dickerson, both former assistants on the NCAA level of volleyball at GCU, will begin their first years overseeing those sports.
Club Baseball and Softball
GCU Club Baseball had their best season yet in 2019, finishing second at the 2019 National Club Baseball Association (NCBA) DI World Series, losing to the University of Illinois in the championship game. Second place in the national tournament also translated to a No. 2 national ranking in the 2019 NCBA DI Final Rawlings Top 20 Poll. It was a run many thought the team couldn’t make after finishingthird at the 2018 NCBA World Series, then losing several key components of that team over the summer, but Lopes’ Head Coach Rich Warnol retooled the roster, and the Lopes put together a 14-game winning streak midway through the year to propel them back into the national spotlight.
Like their DI counterparts, GCU’s Division II team also reached new heights last year, clinching their first-ever Pacific South Conference Championship, and even knocked off Arizona State University at regionals before finishing third. They’ll head into 2019-20 with a new look in the dugout, since Warnol will have to replace longtime Lopes’ DII Head Coach Fred Speck, who stepped down over the summer.
On the women’s side, GCU Club Softball is in a position of redemption in 2020, since this is a program that had gotten used to having a national ranking and a strong chance at reaching the National Club Softball Association National Tournament, where they finished in the top 3 three years ago. Lopes’ Head Coach Lindsey Collins – who took the Lopes to nationals in her first year at the helm – has seen her team narrowly miss the postseason the past two years, but carries the momentum of a season-ending eight-game winning streak from last April to bolster hopes of ending the drought this coming April.
Building On, or Just Building, New Divisions
The new season brings a new alignment for both soccer teams – even though they’ll realign with several familiar opponents. Over the summer, Lopes’ Men’s Club Soccer Head Coach Lance Thompson joined forces with several other coaches in the region to form the Southwest Conference. The conference will house many of the teams that the Lopes saw on their schedule in 2018 as part of the West Coast Soccer Association, and expect the new conference to provide a more solid schedule with less cancellations. The conference will govern both the Lopes’ Men’s and Women’s Club Soccer programs, and will still allow them to compete in the regional and national tournaments for the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association (the men reached the NIRSA South Regionals last October).
Meanwhile, GCU Club Women’s Basketball was a trailblazer in 2018-19, forming the new Arizona Women’s Basketball League, putting two teams in the new league, and promptly having one team reach the AWBL Championship Game in front of a huge crowd at the CAC last March. That success and increased interest inspired GCU Club Men’s Basketball Head Coach Matt Gordon to form the AMBL (just replace “Women’s” with “Men’s” in the title, and you have the new name) for this coming year. The AWBL is expected to double in size to as many as ten teams, and the AMBL will rival that number of squads as well in 2019-20.
Finally, it was a shot in the dark that worked to perfection. GCU Club Acapella saw a need after attending the Arizona A Cappella Festival in the spring of 2018, and asked if they could host it themselves in 2019. The response from last April’s event was overwhelming – so much that they’ve been asked to host it again in 2020, and possibly beyond.
“We don’t want to dominate the location for future years, but if they want to come here, we’d be thrilled to host them,” said GCU Club Acapella Head Coach Philip Carr. “It’s really quite an honor to be well-received like this from the other university ensembles.”