By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director; Maria Adams, Giovanni Hicks and Zach Melcher/GCU Club Sports Writing Staff
Don’t tell us we can’t do something. Even in a pandemic.
The obstacles thrown at the teams in the GCU Club Sports department by COVID-19 seemed endless at times. While the odds of getting through it were daunting at different stages of the last year-and-a-half, the fourth and final part of our season preview series shows us how teams that were restricted, limited to just practice or even shut down entirely for a year… have refused to be deterred; and how new programs continue to rise up for a 2021-22 debut.
Let Them Underestimate Us
There’s no conference. There’s no playoffs. There’s not many people to play.
The odds were stacked against GCU Men’s Lacrosse, which over the past decade has been the benchmark program of GCU Club Sports, to have a 2021 spring season. Most of the teams in the powerful Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association shut it down well before the spring. The Lopes’ California-based conference, the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference, saw just four of its 18 teams (across two divisions) decide to participate. Plus, the Lopes couldn’t travel for games. It all proved to be blessings for Lopes’ Head Coach Jeff Guy, who had a young, rebuilding team in front of him in the first place, but also had the lure of that ‘benchmark’ to attract the existing teams to head to the GCU campus. The Lopes cobbled together a five-game schedule against several teams ranked the year before, winning two of the games in exciting fashion. Along the way, they found new offensive and defensive starters, lost just two to graduation over the summer, increased the roster by nearly two dozen, and found depth they had to have to bring the program back to elite status for the future.
GCU Club Swimming had even more restrictions. No one else to face. No chance to make the trip to Georgia for nationals, since they couldn’t be held safely. Or could they? Lopes’ Head Coach Jeremy Phung was notified in January that College Club Swimming – their sport’s governing body – decided that ‘virtual nationals’ would take the place of everyone converging on a single venue and risk community spread. Once Phung sold the concept to his team, they were in full-preparation mode. The result? A second-place finish in the nation. The motivation moving forward is obvious, since nearly all of the Lopes’ swimmers return, with an influx of new swimmers that have pushed the team’s roster to record numbers.
Starting Fresh… Doesn’t Mean Starting Over
The student-led programs had extra challenges the past two years, since several student head coaches had to watch their senior year proceed without coaching the team they’d helped build due to the pandemic. Teams could’ve gone dormant this year – if not for the work of student leaders that just couldn’t stay away after getting a taste of the camaraderie and culture.
GCU Flag Football saw not one, but two head coaching changes in a span of twelve months (due to the pandemic) and hasn’t played a game since the spring of 2020. That didn’t stop Dylan Sanchez and Olaiya Adeyemi, two members of the 2019-20 squad, from stepping up over the summer to share coaching duties this fall and bring back several members of that same team to play again.
Sammy Sieckmann built GCU Mixed Martial Arts two years ago in the hopes of competing last season. Instead of hanging his head about his team getting shut down last year, Sieckmann is back to get the team working on things and to cultivate the next generation of student leaders to take his place when he departs.
Meanwhile, after over a year of inactivity, GCU CrossFit got a huge boost from Welcome Week. That’s when over a dozen people signed up at a Club Sports Pop-Up Event last week to show they’re ready to proceed with 2021-22.
Finally, for GCU Women’s Club Basketball, there’s no coaching change or movement at the top. Former Lopes’ NCAA player Kyle Speed spent Year No. 3 of his head coaching tenure working kids through various drills when last season was lost. Most of his team that reached the Arizona Women’s Basketball League Championship Game in 2020 graduated along the way. Speed isn’t the least bit daunted, since even with no action for 18 months, the roster numbers are already growing – with brand-new talent that suddenly has the chance to grab starting spots when AWBL play begins in a couple of months.
The New Blood
Pandemic or no pandemic, the new school year brings new enthusiasm, new energy… and new ideas for teams. At GCU Club Sports, they usually become more than just ideas when groups of student-athletes walk through the office doors with a gleam in their collective eyes. Set to launch in 2021-22 under the program’s umbrella are GCU Club Boxing, GCU Disc Golf Club, GCU Figure Skating and GCU Gymnastics Club.
And whatever new sport you might have in mind. Stop on by Building 58 sometime.