By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
Not often is there a chance to relive the past while seeing the future. Not often does the past have nine All-Americans, and the future goes for its third national title in four years.
Even just for a day, it all came together as the Grand Canyon University Men’s Lacrosse team hosted its annual alumni game on Saturday. Twenty-seven past alumni donned Lopes purple once more to face off in a friendly showdown with this year’s team.
“We’re doing something right when guys want to come back,” Lopes’ Head Coach Manny Rapkin said. “It means they had a special experience here, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Despite some being away from the game for a few years, the alumni side jumped out to an early 5-1 lead in the opening quarter. This year’s squad would score the next six to lead 7-5 at halftime, and would then ultimately pull away for a 14-9 victory. But it didn’t surprise anyone that the alumni still had something to prove.
“We knew they were going to be good,” Rapkin said. “In fact, they told us they were coming to play. There’s nine All-Americans on the field. If you can shoot the ball, you can stick around and play for a while.”
Win or lose, it was a time to reconnect with old friends and coaches while witnessing the bright future for GCU Men’s Lacrosse.
“Starting from where we did to building a multi-national championship team, it’s crazy to see where we’ve come and what we’ve evolved into,” said 2012 graduate Andrew Hunter.
Building a former Division II team into a multi-national championship Division I team doesn’t happen overnight. Both Hunter and his former teammate, Jacob Hippensteel, played from 2008 to 2012 on a campus that was lined with dirt paths. Each sees the growth of the campus and the growth of the program all connecting back to one element.
“It’s a family all the way through,” Hippensteel said. “From the incoming freshman to some of us older alumni, it’s nice knowing there’s a community getting built up here.”
It’s a community that continues to grow, too. Joe Balestrieri graduated back in May, and is the reigning Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association Division I Player of the Year. Returning to the same field where he guided his team to another national title just months prior, it was as if Balestrieri never left.
“It was really cool to see the guys that came back,” Balestrieri said. “From the coaches to the team, it was all really special. Coming from a school in Maryland, I felt at home here, so it was really special to come back.”
No matter how long each has been away from the program, no matter what they accomplished, each alumni has a sense that GCU Men’s Lacrosse will forever be a part of wherever they call home.
“Words can’t really describe it,” Hunter said. “The connection is always there, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere.”