By: Natalie Van Dyke/ GCU Staff
A new league, appearances in the Arizona Women’s Basketball League and National Intramural & Recreational Sports Association Regional championship games and a brand new athletics facility makes the 2018-19 season a hard one to top for Grand Canyon University Women’s Club Basketball, but that’s not going to stop the Lopes from setting their sights high for the 2019-20 season.
This year, GCU Club Sports will commission the AWBL once again, and the women’s club basketball program is already topping its standards from last year; expanding the league from five teams to seven this season. In addition, every AWBL game will be played in GCU’s prestigious new athletic facility, the Canyon Activity Center.
“Hosting the AWBL is big time,” says Lopes’ Head Coach Kyle Speed. “GCU is all about growing, so the fact that the program continues to grow, and the league continues to grow is fun for everyone involved. Club sports at GCU has great people from top to bottom running the show, and we have great opportunities because of it.”
In addition to hosting the AWBL, the Canyon Activity Center will also be home to the NIRSA Regional VI Tournament in late February. After a second-place finish in the AWBL last season, GCU Purple earned a ticket to the NIRSA Regional VI Tournament, where they placed second, and were only 11 points away from earning a spot in the NIRSA National Tournament. This year, Speed and his squad are setting their sights on reaching the national tournament, and they have all hands on deck with returners and rookies with the same goal in mind.
“The girls want to create a bond that will translate to the game,” said Speed. “They really want to win NIRSA (Regionals) and NIRSA Nationals, and they’ve set the bar high from Day 1. They’ve shown up and worked, and any team that I have been on that was successful, the players took ownership, so I’m excited to see that.”
Speed expects to rely heavily on returners Jenny Albano and Daeja Banner, both seniors who have been in the program since their freshman year, as well as Karlee Souve, Cassandra Ibarra and Sam Ibarra. Speed is also excited about the arrival of newcomer Na’Lon Smith, who transferred to GCU from Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.
“Albano and Banner have been the model of consistency and are true leaders for this team,” said Speed. “Souve will play a big role for us controlling the paint, and (Cassandra) Ibarra’s natural feel for the game and (Sam) Ibarra’s smart and timely point guard decisions contribute to our success. We were also blessed to get a DI talent in Smith for a combination of girls who love the game and want to win.”
Between the players, the league and the facility, the Lopes have the makings of another great season. Speed is excited about all of these factors bringing fans along for the ride as the Lopes hope to stamp a ticket to nationals.
“Having a nice crowd really gives us energy,” said Speed. “The (Lopes’ Men’s Club Basketball) team came out and supported us for our exhibition win over Scottsdale, and it really was a difference maker.”
The Lopes open their season Monday, Dec. 2with GCU White playing Bella Vista College Preparatory’s Team 2 at 6 pm, and GCU Purple hosting BVCP’s Team 1 in a rematch of last year’s championship game at 7:30 pm in the Canyon Activity Center.