Winning Is the Point for GCU’s Roz Nelson
By Doug Carroll
There’s a one-word job description for a point guard in basketball — win — and the record shows that no one at GCU has done it better than Rosalyn Nelson, gimpy knee and all.
Nelson’s four-year resumé says plenty about her. She has scored 1,534 points and passed out 525 assists. This season, she’s averaging 12.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. She was the Pacific West Conference Player of the Year as a sophomore in 2007-08, and she has made the all-conference team three times.
That’s fine, but did she win?
Did she ever.
In Nelson’s four seasons, the Antelopes are 85-28 heading into this weekend’s NCAA Division II West Regional — including a 16-12 record in 2008-09, when she suffered a serious knee injury and missed the last eight games of the season. (GCU went 2-6 in those eight games.) She has started all but one of 105 games in her career as an Antelope.
The Antelopes have won the PacWest title in four of the last five seasons, missing only in 2009-10 — when Nelson was sidelined for the entire year, rehabbing from her injury and taking a medical redshirt.
For those keeping score, that’s four seasons and four conference titles for Roz. It’s hardly a coincidence.
“She has put winning on the map here,” Coach Trent May says of Nelson. “Find the big wins in this program’s history, and you’ll find she was the common denominator. She has been synonymous with winning.”
There’s more. The season before Nelson arrived on campus, the Antelopes finished a dismal 4-22. She sparked an instant turnaround (23-4) under Coach Craig Wiginton, who turned the reins over to May, his assistant, the next season.
GCU hasn’t looked back.
“I think I’ve made a big impact here at Grand Canyon,” says Nelson, who followed in the footsteps of her older brother, Ryan, a point guard for the men’s team from 2004-06. “I have mixed emotions about it being almost over.”
Her left knee isn’t 100 percent, and she admits to being weary of its need for constant treatment by the athletic training staff. She is averaging 34 minutes a game — that’s not much rest — and the physical toll has been substantial. But it hasn’t diminished her enjoyment of the season, the program’s best ever with 27 victories and counting.
“What we have is special,” Nelson says of her teammates. “We bond so well. Every one of the four teams had great players. On this one, no one cares who scores and we have fun playing together.”
Senior All-America candidate Samantha Murphy, leading all of Division II in scoring with an average of 24.9 points per game, has received most of the headlines, yet Nelson has been the glue.
Unsure of what to expect after Nelson’s long recovery, May and his assistant coaches, Cory Cole and Jill Mahoney, were holding their breaths back in October, when the Antelopes scrimmaged Central Arizona College before the season officially began.
“It became apparent what we had with her back,” May recalls. “Nothing mattered that night except watching her move up and down the court. It was almost a defining moment for our team.”
With Murphy and Nelson, GCU has the two best players in the history of the women’s program on the court at the same time.
Here’s a little-known fact: In high school, Murphy’s Xavier College Prep team handed Nelson’s Deer Valley team its only defeat in a 31-1 state championship season in 2005-06. Murphy was a junior, Nelson a senior.
“We still joke about that to this day,” Nelson says. “I didn’t like playing against her, but we’ve been a great backcourt together. Before every game, the team huddles up and Sam gives us a speech that’s usually funny.”
The Antelopes are plenty serious, however, about Seattle Pacific University, their first-round opponent at 3:30 p.m. Friday (Arizona time) in Pomona, Calif. Although they defeated the Falcons, 74-69, on Dec. 3 in St. George, Utah, it was SPU that bounced GCU from the West Regional two years ago, 77-48, in the first round.
That was with Nelson on the shelf. This time, her sister will fly in to southern California from Atlanta for the regional, expecting to see GCU victories on Friday, Saturday and Monday.
“She told me, ‘No pressure, but we’re booked (at the hotel) through Tuesday,’” Nelson says, smiling.
Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].