National Stage Awaits Top Antelope Athletes
By Doug Carroll
This week has been circled in red for weeks and months on the calendars of GCU athletes in wrestling, swimming, and track and field. National qualifiers will head off to the NCAA Division II championships, in far-off places such as Kearney, Neb., San Antonio and Albuquerque.
It doesn’t get any bigger than this, and in the final preparations there is no room for doubt, only determination.
“I just know I’m going to win,” says wrestler Todd Wilcox, ranked at the top of NCAA Division II at 133 pounds and one of a record seven Antelope wrestlers going to Nebraska. “I’ve worked too hard not to win. I think about it every day.”
Wilcox’s potential opponents probably are doing some thinking of their own — about him. The senior from Sacramento, Calif., has a 31-3 record and is riding a 17-match winning streak. He is GCU’s first No. 1-ranked wrestler, and he could become its first national champion.
“Guys have been wrestling me this year to just keep it close and not to win,” says Wilcox, adding that he has been paying extra attention lately to his sleep, diet and workouts. “I need to stay focused.”
Junior swimmer Mychala Lynch of Phoenix can’t believe the big week is already here. But then, she’s still getting accustomed to being back in the pool.
Lynch left Division I Texas Christian University after one season, burned out on her sport and struggling with the illness of her mother, Gretchen, who died after a two-year battle with colon cancer. She was out of swimming for two years.
“I told everyone I wasn’t getting back in the water,” says Lynch, who figures to be one of the top scorers for the women’s team in Texas. “I was so over it.”
Conversations with her twin sister, Nicole, who swims for Colorado State University, plus an interest in a nursing career led her to GCU — and back into competition. She’s seeded third in the 100-meter butterfly, and Coach Steve Schaffer likes her chances in the 200 butterfly and 50 freestyle as well.
“She’s a great comeback story,” Schaffer says.
Lynch’s mother won’t be far from her thoughts.
“I wear her ring all the time,” she says. “I want to tell her (about nationals), but I can’t. I do it for her. It motivates and pushes me. I never got to tell her I was getting back into swimming.”
The week marks another trip to New Mexico for freshman Shavine Hodges, whose spectacular success on the track has been one of the highlights of the program’s start-up under Coach Tom Flood.
Already the Antelopes have been to Albuquerque on two occasions for indoor meets. Hodges, a native of Jamaica, is ranked No. 1 in the women’s 60-meter dash (with a time of 7.38 seconds) and No. 4 at 200 meters.
“I’m really excited to see what I’ll do,” she says. “I want to stay relaxed and go do my best. I expected I would do well (at GCU) because I always shoot for the stars.”
In the back of her mind, she says, will be one of her favorite Bible verses: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Wilcox says it’s rewarding to be part of elevating GCU’s profile on the national level.
Only three years ago, in their first season of wrestling, the Antelopes didn’t win a single dual meet in 25 tries. This season, they went 17-4, were consistently ranked in the Division II top 10 and won the regular-season Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference championship.
Last year, Wilcox, Victor Carazo (174 pounds) and Ryan Becerra (184) qualified for nationals. This year, those three are joined by four more.
“We’ve already got schools hating on us,” Wilcox says with pride. “R.C. LaHaye is a great coach. He pushes us harder than I’ve seen a team be pushed.
“We have a really close team. Everyone clicks. We’re there for each other and we root each other on. You can see it. We’re closer than other teams.”
Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.