By: Ruby Arani / GCU Staff
Spring in the valley. It ushers in the warmer weather and cactus flowers blooming…
… and the return of Grand Canyon University Women’s Lacrosse.
The Lopes will kick off their second season in Division I this weekend in California in grueling fashion by playing the University of Southern California, Santa Barba and California Polytechnic State University in two different California cities over a 26-hour span.
The 2019 season will be a fresh start for the Lopes. The 2018 season was the program’s first year in DI, and the Lopes finished fourth in the South Conference of the Western Women’s Lacrosse League (WWLL). Going into their second season in DI, the Lopes know better what to expect.
Going Back to Basics
The Lopes’ four-game fall schedule – including the annual Round Robin at Arizona State University – brough in valuable lessons that Lopes’ Head Coach Tracy Gallihugh has established as a foundation for the season. That included going back to the basics – even before the game starts.
“In fall ball, we had issues with our warm-up,” noted Gallihugh. “For the spring season, warm-ups will be much more organized and strict so the team’s energy can be transferred right into the first half versus waiting to really start playing in the second half.”
It wasn’t just the pregame rituals, though, that the Lopes had to start over with.
“We have gone back to the fundamentals,” said Gallihugh. “I think a fault in the past is we were so consumed with getting everything done and skipped over fundamentals, which hurt us. We are spending a lot of time perfecting our fundamental skills.”
The Lopes have a stacked schedule this year which includes new and old faces.
A new face of competition the Lopes will take on in 2019 are the Rams of Colorado State University, who comes to Prescott Field on the GCU campus to battle the Lopes Saturday, February 9. CSU competes in the Rocky Mountain Women’s Lacrosse League and has won four national championships. The Lopes haven’t played CSU or any Colorado team before.
“CSU will be skilled,” remarked Gallihugh. “Women’s lacrosse is different in Colorado in terms of development and playing style and knowing that puts a lot of mental pressure on the team.”
That will hopefully better prepare the Lopes for conference play, since they were only able to muster one WWLL win in 2018 (a 17-12 victory at University of San Diego April 7). The Lopes’ only road game in league play will be the regular season finale at University of Arizona April 7, which means that before that, they’ll get to host USD, San Diego State University, and – according to Gallihugh – the Lopes’ toughest WWLL competition, Arizona State University, at home.
“ASU is going to be the hard team in conference,” said Gallihugh. “Not because they are better than us, but (because of) that mental rivalry. The first time we will play ASU this season will be our first game of the season to play at the GCU Soccer Stadium. It will be a tough and aggressive match but a game everyone is looking forward to.”
Players to Watch
Kelsey Bentien – Freshman Attacker
Even though she is a newcomer for the 2019 season, Bentien has already established herself as a playmaker. “Bentien has a very high lacrosse IQ,” said Gallihugh. “She knows exactly what is happening. She anticipates plays and the ball, and she has great field awareness, which just makes her good on every end of the field. She is one of those ideal athletes that you can just put anywhere and has such a positive attitude.”
Lexi Ortt – Senior Captain & Midfielder
Ortt is a standout player with a standout record at GCU. Ortt was ranked No.9 in WWLL with 27 goals and 15 assists and earned WWLL DI All-Star Second Team Midfielder honors. “Ortt drives our midfield and attacking end,” said Gallihugh. “She is a very skilled player, and the underclassmen look up to her to help them improve their skills.”
Setting New Goals
From the outside, one would assume that a team’s goals are the same across the board: win conference, win playoffs and win nationals. Those goals are standard, but Gallihugh is taking the goals for the season in a new direction.
“Of course, winning conference is a goal, but the question is, ‘What is the team going to do to get to that point?” said Gallihugh. “Establishing these goals, allows for the girls to refocus and be dedicated to achieving each goal they have set for themselves, for the team and for the program.”