By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director; Maria Adams, Giovanni Hicks and Zach Melcher/GCU Club Sports Writing Staff
What goes around…
There were times during the COVID-19 shutdown that GCU Club Sports student-athletes, coaches and staff alike were discouraged about the ‘great unknown’, since the forecast of the future seemed to change on a moment’s notice. 18 months later, the pandemic isn’t over, but the forecast no longer resembles the volatile, monsoon-ish ‘maybe no rain, maybe over an inch in the next hour’ forecast. Part 2 of our four-part GCU Club Sports season preview series gives us a look at how the sometimes hidden productivity during the last year is paying major dividends for programs and players alike for 2021-22.
‘Hello? Are You Still There?’
What if you gave a party, and no one came? Several Lopes’ teams felt jilted when they were allowed to stay active during the pandemic, but looked around to find that no one else in their sport was still moving. GCU Women’s Lacrosse, GCU Women’s Rugby and GCU Men’s Rugby saw schedules against nationally ranked competition blown up and replaced with a couple of matches against revamped club teams. For Lopes’ Women’s Lacrosse Head Coach Tracy Ramirez, the daunting task of keeping her players engaged last spring has resulted in record numbers of returners, and even a chance to host regionals (something they wanted to do the past two years). The two rugby teams didn’t care that they didn’t win a match in the spring, since just getting on the pitch was enough to motivate their team leaders to show the freshmen (and each other) how to appreciate what they had by just playing.
For GCU Water Polo, the party was a ‘grand opening’. The loss of their head coach in the winter – along with numerous players – didn’t come close to deterring them from playing their first matches in program history this past spring. Ottawa University was the only Phoenix-area team still in the pool to play, and the more experienced Spirit dominated both matches, but for the Lopes, just having the chance to hear the whistle for the opening face-off (in front of decent crowds at Diamondback Pool, no less) was more than enough to make it worthwhile.
Finally, GCU Club Tennis Head Coach Ed Prudhomme was offered a chance for his team to keep practicing, but not much else. Compared to other programs around the state of Arizona, that was a bargain, since the rest were shut down. Live competition in ’21-’22 is something the Lopes welcome – especially knowing that a year’s worth of practice now gives them an edge.
Movin’ On Up
No practices. No races. No games. No meets. No ways to showcase your team for potential recruits.
Even without an official way for several teams to get on the playing surface in 2020-21, five Lopes’ teams have bright, shining examples of what their program has done for their players and team over the past year to use as motivators for this coming season
Two teams’ new recruiting tool is touting a star pupil that has shown enough to move to the next level. GCU Club Golf relied on Matt Polivka in 2018-19 to help lead them to high finishes at the 2018 National Collegiate Club Golf Association Fall National Championships and 2019 NCCGA Spring Nationals before Polivka moved up to the Lopes’ NCAA team. Polivka made both the Lopes’ D1 team as his old coach, GCU Club Golf Head Coach John Wasson, proud this past season by earning All-WAC 1st Team honors.
A month later, GCU Running Club announced that Kendall Drisko, whose only chance to race in 2020-21 with the Lopes resulted in a first-place medal, was now an alumnus of the team. Drisko’s impressive time trial run in the spring for the Lopes’ D1 Cross Country team won her a spot on that squad for the fall.
GCU Roundnet Club has ‘premiered’ a new team name (formerly GCU Club Spikeball), but that isn’t all. This fall, Aidan Mackey will debut as the team’s new student head coach. When he does, he’ll be able to fall back on his three players that have propelled themselves to Spikeball Roundnet Association Premier Division status (the highest status achievable in the sport): Trey Bowman, Dylan Bricker and their newest star recruit, Ryan McCargar.
Finally, while they had to take a pass on 2020-21, the revamped coaching staff for GCU Club Ultimate uses the term ‘D1’ freely. While ultimate isn’t an NCAA sport, the work that the program has put in – whether it be as a Lopes’ squad in ’19-’20 or individually a year ago – has transformed the culture of the team, and adjusted the recruits they look for. Lopes’ Student Co-Coach Eli Salmon sees their ‘Division 1 mindset’ as a major advantage in a sport that many pass off as a ‘party sport’.