By: Chase Gardiner/GCU Staff
In their first year of competition, the Grand Canyon University Women’s Club Volleyball team quickly made a name for themselves by claiming the 2017 Mountain West Volleyball Conference Championship. This year, they returned as defending champions, and proved that their first year of success was no fluke, but rather a pattern.
Over the weekend, the Lopes traveled to Grand Junction, Colorado, where they put together an impressive undefeated run on their way to a second consecutive conference championship. The women opened up pool play with dominant performances against Utah State University “B” team, GCU C, and Colorado Mesa University A as they closed out each series in only two sets. Continuing with the trend, the Lopes entered the quarterfinals, and promptly downed Colorado Mesa B in another two-set victory. The women eventually hit some resistance in the semi-final rematch against USU B as they lost their first and only match of the tournament. However, the Lopes banded together and downed USU B for a second time, and advanced to the finals to defend their title. With another two-set victory over USU A, the Lopes were officially crowned as the MWVC Champions.
As if a second consecutive title wasn’t enough to prove the dominance of the women’s team, the Lopes also managed to make up half of the MWVC All-Conference Team selections. Out of the 10 selected athletes, five came from GCU. The Lopes’ Angie Castenada, Abby Williams, Sarah Sperbeck, and Olivia Brunt were picked from GCU A, while Lauren Wiebe was selected to represent GCU B. Additionally, Brunt, who was also a member of the championship team last year, was named as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“Successfully defending the conference title was for sure sweeter than winning it the first time,” explained Brunt. “Although our team has grown in size since last year, the other teams have as well, so for us to be able to win again against teams that are also stronger is great.”
While her MVP-caliber performance definitely helped the Lopes overcome these stronger opponents, Brunt was quick to defer to the team’s collaborative effort.
“It’s a team sport, and the girls on my team are really great,” explained Brunt. “For example, our outside hitter Malia Papineau is great because I know I can always count on her to get a kill when I set her the ball. We also have Keighan Miller, who is such a positive influence on the team, and whenever she’s on the floor, everyone relaxes and plays a little better. They both helped me this weekend to stay calm, and they are great teammates-on and off the court.”
After seeing her athletes claim their second title in two years, Lopes’ Head Coach Kristine Naber has plenty of reason to be excited for the direction of the GCU Women’s Club Volleyball program.
“It says a lot for the program we are building here,'” explained Naber. “We are very fortunate to have the support of the university, but to be able to not only win in our first year, but to come back and win again and have our second team finish in the top four, it says a lot about where the program is going and how it’s growing-not just in terms of numbers but also in terms of competitiveness.”
Brunt echoed her coaches’ sentiment as she reflected on the way the team continues to advance.
“In our first year, it was kind of a rough start up, since we only had nine players in the regular season, and only seven going into the conference championship due to injury,” said Brunt. “This year, we have three teams and are able to compete out of state with two, so we have had a lot of growth in numbers, as well as our culture and maturity.”
With a very strong foundation of success already laid, the Lopes have high expectations for the rest of their season, and the future of the program.
“Our teams have been working hard for the last two years, and I’m really proud of the success that we’ve had so far, and I hope that we can continue to be humble,” said Brunt. “God has given us a great opportunity, and I hope that we can continue our success in the future.”