Grand Canyon University achieves national excellence by capturing 2011-12 Learfield Cup
PHOENIX, AZ - The rise of Grand Canyon University athletics has reached the top.
Ranked 173rd in the Learfield Sports Director’s Cup for NCAA Division II athletic programs just three years ago, GCU has vaulted its way to first after wrapping up one of the school’s most successful seasons.
It has been a steady climb for the Antelopes. Men’s golf and women’s basketball were the only two sports to score points in 2009. GCU worked its way to 76th in 2010 and eighth in 2011 in the annual quest to be the nation’s best NCAA Division II athletics program. Sixteen of GCU’s 21 NCAA Division II teams scored points this past season, including nine women’s programs.
The Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup standings are based on points given for each Division II institution’s finish in up to 14 sports (seven men’s and seven women’s).
“It is truly an honor to receive this recognition,” Grand Canyon University Athletic Director Keith Baker said. “On behalf of Grand Canyon University, the Pacific West Conference and NCAA Division II programs throughout the country, GCU is grateful for the opportunity we have to compete for conference, regional and national championships.”
GCU accumulated 925.50 points throughout the year to top reigning champion Grand Valley State (894.00), who had won eight consecutive Learfield Sports Directors’ Cups. Rounding out the top five were Ashland (750.50), Augustana (682.00) and Indianapolis (673.75).
The ‘Lopes were tied for 80th after the final fall standings in 2011, as their women’s soccer and women’s volleyball teams each finished in 33rd place. The women’s soccer team made the postseason for the first time in the 16-year history of the program, while the volleyball team appeared in NCAA postseason play for the first time since 1995.
A strong winter season catapulted GCU into second place, as their total of 479.50 points during the winter was the highest among all Division II schools. The ‘Lopes qualified for postseason play in each of their five winter sports and came home with plenty of hardware.
The men’s indoor track and field squad, under the guidance of United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Division II West Region Coach of the Year Tom Flood, claimed their first NCAA championship in just their second year of existence, while the wrestling program grabbed third in just their fifth season. Women’s swimming produced a program-best fifth-place finish at the NCAA championships, a five-spot jump from last season.
"What’s happening here at GCU is amazing,” R.C. LaHaye, GCU's wrestling whose program has improved in each of its five seasons, said. “The rise of GCU athletics is based on years of hard work by several people. From the student-athletes, to the coaching staffs, and all the way up to the executive team and the support they provide.
“This has been a total team effort campus wide. It is a very special time for GCU athletics and we are looking forward to continuing the success for 2012-2013."
Additionally among the winter sports, the men’s swimming and diving program finished fifth, the women’s indoor track and field team took sixth, the women’s basketball team finished 17th and the men’s basketball team was 33rd.
A strong finish in the spring moved GCU into first place in the standings. The women’s golf team finished third in their first-ever trip to the NCAA championships. The ‘Lopes also took fifth place in men’s tennis and women’s outdoor track and field, 10th in men’s outdoor track and field and 17th in women’s tennis and softball. The softball program made their first trip to the regional softball championship game after collecting their first NCAA tournament wins over Chico State and Sonoma State.
In all, GCU accumulated one team national championship and seven individual national titles between men’s indoor track and field, wrestling and men’s and women’s swimming. Furthermore, the ‘Lopes captured two Pacific West Conference titles in women’s basketball and men’s golf and one Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference crown in women’s swimming.
“Our performance in the Learfield Cup standings just shows the commitment this university has made to athletics and the standard of excellence that is expected and what all of us are trying to achieve,” GCU Men’s Basketball Coach Russ Pennell said. “To me, it’s just a stepping stone to greater things we can do as we move forward with all of our programs.”
The crystal trophy presented by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of America (NACDA) at the NACDA Convention on June 26 in Dallas, Texas, is the perfect ending to a successful run through the 2011-12 athletic year for GCU.
USA Today highlighted the Antelopes' championship season and their article can be viewed here.