Finishes 1st-ever regional tournament with 15-6 thrashing of Long Beach State
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
A lot of wind. A telling coin flip. A little revenge.
And a chance to say farewell.
In a historic trip to San Luis Obispo, California, the Grand Canyon University Ultimate team placed No. 11 at the 2021 USA Ultimate Southwest Regional Championships this past weekend. The team went 2-3 at the two-day tournament, pulling off an upset along the way of No. 7 University of California-Davis and a near-upset of No. 9 Arizona State University. It was the first time the program had ever qualified for the regional tournament in its six-year history.
Game 1 (Saturday): Pool B Play: (11) GCU 8, (7) Cal-Davis 7
The Lopes arrived bright and early to the field on Saturday to find one thing they weren’t prepared for: wind. The 25-40 mile-per-hour gusts could’ve done in a Lopes’ team nowhere near as experienced in dealing with it as the No. 7 seed UCD team they were facing, but GCU used an advantage that happened even before play started.
“Coming from playing in wind like that before, I’ve lost tournaments because we lost the coin flip at the beginning of the game,” said Lopes’ sophomore handler Shane Davidson. “Once we won the flip (before this matchup), I knew we needed to choose a specific side of the field, since that would factor into how we played.”
With the wind blowing from end zone to end zone (and strong enough that all scores happened in just one end zone all game), the Lopes scored first, and never trailed in the game. Davidson – whose experience playing in his native Colorado better prepared him for windy conditions than most of his teammates – helped keep the UC-Davis offense at bay with four forced turnovers, and Eli Salmon and Micah Gross provided the offense with a pair of goals each.
Game 2 (Saturday): Pool B Winners’ Game: (2) Stanford 15, (11) GCU 8
Reaching the winners’ bracket of the entire tournament hinged on upsetting the No. 16 team in the nation, No. 2 seed Stanford University. Despite having half the roster size of Stanford, the Lopes used the momentum from the UCD win to power their way out to a 4-2 lead. Undeterred, SU scored the game’s next 6 points to take an 8-4 halftime lead, and led the rest of the way. The Lopes closed the gap to three midway through the second half before Stanford ran away late.
“It’s not every day that you get to play a team that belongs to the Pac-12 in a club sport,” said Lopes’ junior handler Jake Paulson. “We knew how tough Stanford was going to be, but from the start, we just looked at it as an opportunity rather than a challenge, so we worked hard to stay in the game.”
Davidson’s three assists powered the Lopes’ offense as Gross and Tucker Olson each had two goals in the loss.
Game 3 (Saturday): 2nd Place Bracket Round of 32: (12) Arizona 15, (11) GCU 1
Undermanned and exhausted, the Lopes played their third game in the span of seven hours, and watched the University of Arizona avenge their first-ever loss to GCU (at the 2021 USA Ultimate Desert Conference Championships three weeks ago) by sprinting to an 8-0 halftime lead. Jake Dibley scored the Lopes’ lone goal in the second half as GCU dropped into the 9th-place pool.
Game 4 (Sunday): 9th Place Semifinals: (9) Arizona State 13, (11) GCU 12
GCU’s initial game on the second day of the tournament mirrored the first game of Day 1 in one aspect: the team who had the disc last scored the game-winner. This time, however, despite leading, 8-7, at halftime, the Lopes surrendered the lead to Arizona State University midway through the second half and never got it back.
“It was a tough mental battle the entire second half,” said Davidson. “It was truly a game decided by one or two plays at the end of the game, so we were proud of the way we were able to compete with them.”
Davidson and Salmon combined for nine assists, while Paulson and Gross accounted for three goals apiece.
Game 5 (Sunday): 11th-Place Game: (11) GCU 15, (15) Long Beach State 6
Despite being outmanned yet again, the Lopes took immediate command of the contest, scoring the first five points of the game, and never relenting after that.
The motivations for the sudden resurgence didn’t start and end with the sting of the ASU loss, though.
“We’d just came off three straight losses, and we wanted to end with a high point in winning – not just for the team, but also for Micah Gross and Jacob Dibley, our two alumni who came back to play with us this postseason,” said Lopes’ junior handler Eli Salmon. “We wanted to win to give them a sendoff that they really deserved for putting so much time and effort into this program over the years.”
Paulson had four assists to lead the way but was aided by three hammer assists by GCU rookie cutter Justin Thelen as the Lopes secured the same finishing spot as their seed going into the tournament.
“That 11th-place finish tells us that we deserved to be there,” said Salmon. “Making regionals for the first time was a huge accomplishment in the first place, but even with our smaller numbers, keeping our seed against these big teams, and showing them that we can compete at a high level just made the trip that much sweeter.”
The Lopes are off for the rest of the fall semester but will return to tournament play in January.