Lopes’ athletes enthusiastic, determined to lead others
By: Julie Laugel and Giovanni Hicks/GCU Club Sports Writing Staff
Two compassionate athletes shed their knowledge and love for the game on others, making a positive impact on young athletes both on the Grand Canyon University campus and in the local community.
Autumn Hilderbrand and Kam Casino have been chosen as the GCU Club Sports June Student-Athletes of the Month. These athletes exemplified exceptional leadership within their respective teams.
Autumn Hilderbrand: Water Polo
As a team captain and founder of the Grand Canyon University Water Polo program, Lopes’ senior Autumn Hilderbrand plays a vital role – not just on the team, but in the water polo and Christian communities as well.
“Autumn stands out from others around her because she has talent in leadership and creates a positive influence on her teammates,” said Lopes’ Assistant Coach Troy Leeper. “She acts in the moment and has confidence to deal with any unexpected situations that may arise, which is an important part of building a winning, respectful culture.”
Hilderbrand began playing water polo during her freshman year at Auburn Mountainview High School in Washington, serving as captain for her final two years. During her high school experience, she also played on three different club teams as well as the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics team.
When she arrived at GCU in 2019, there was no water polo program established, so she met with GCU Club Swimming Head Coach Jeremy Phung to change that.
“I thought it was going to be impossible, so I prayed every night until Jeremy gave me a call to say he had found a coach and players that wanted to join the team,” said Hilderbrand. “I scouted out anyone and everyone that even looked like a water polo player and was unapologetically bold about telling everyone who played or wanted to play that they needed to be on the team.”
Hilderbrand also established “Buddy Days,” where the team would play with youth players at Mesa Water Polo and share their knowledge of the sport. She also started a bible study within the team.
“The Lord is the greatest thing that ever came into my life, and I wanted to share that with my team,” said Hilderbrand. “This season, we went through a devotional called ‘True Competitor,’ which related the gospel to sports teams and how to be like Jesus – in and out of the pool. This helped us become more committed to each other as a team.”
She finally saw her work pay off when the Lopes played their first-ever matches against Ottawa University this past spring.
The Exercise Science major – who is also involved with the children’s ministry at her church – aspires to one day become the fitness regional director of Orangetheory Fitness or a certified strength and conditioning coach for a college sports team.
Kam Casino: Men’s Basketball
When Grand Canyon University Men’s Club Basketball point guard Kam Casino began playing basketball in 7th grade, he developed a deep passion for the game.
“Once I realized that I can play basketball anywhere as long as I have my ball, that’s when I fell in love with the sport,” said Casino.
Casino’s adoration for the game has shown bright so far in his Lopes’ career – even despite the 2020-21 season being reduced to strictly team workouts due to COVID-19 pandemic guidelines.
“Kam is an unbelievably good person. He’s reliable and displays great leadership skills,” said Lopes’ Head Coach Matt Gordon. “He comes to every workout and works hard, doing everything he can to contribute to the team.”
Over this past year, Casino took his hard work ethic, basketball knowledge and skill and applied it to an assistant position at Gordon’s Arcadia Youth Basketball Program. Casino began helping during the winter and spring AYB 3rd- 8th-grade programs by coaching and running game operations. This summer, Casino has been able to work closer with the kids on skill development and training.
“Kam did a great job teaching the kids,” said Gordon. “It’s not easy coaching that age group, but he was incredible.”
Casino’s training and coaching not only impacted the development of the children in the program, but also made him a better person – both on and off the court.
“On the basketball side, helping out with this program has brought me back to the basic fundamentals of the game and helped me remember how important the little things are,” said Casino. “Aside from that, teaching these kids has taught me more about patience and communication.”
Casino is in his sophomore year at GCU studying Business Management. After graduation, Casino aspires to play in the NBA.
Be sure to check out the GCU club sports twitter for more Lopes’ updates!