Softball Stadium opener is truly Grand
Story by Jeannette Cruz
Photos by Gillian Rea
GCU News Bureau
The grand opening of Grand Canyon University Softball Stadium began with a pair of strikes – both overhand and underhand – from GCU President Brian Mueller during a ceremonial first pitch on Thursday.
Lopes pitcher Brianna Aguilar-Beaucage did him one better, striking out the side in the first inning to officially christen GCU’s sparkling new home.
And GCU junior Sierra Smith put the exclamation point on the evening, hitting the first home in the new stadium – a go-ahead grand slam in the fifth inning of the second game.
It was that kind of night, both on and off the field, as GCU swept Montana 6-2 and 5-2 in a season-opening doubleheader in front of a sellout crowd of 1,249 fans.
The stadium was electric as fans raised their cell phones to photograph the new facility, lined up for free hot dogs and took turns pitching balls at inflated backyard bullpens. Middle school-aged girls cheered each other on, shouting, “Come on, girl!” Dads wore GCU outfits to match their daughters’ attire, and family members showed their pride by wearing players’ names on their T-shirts.
Fans walked a landscaped concourse to the stadium, and when it came time to find a seat, they had the option of individual chair-back seats in the middle or benches with backs on the sides. Fabric shading protected fans from the sun above the field facing northeast.
Schellas Hyndman, GCU men’s soccer coach, watched the crowds as he roamed the stadium. “Lots of people are happy,” he said with a smile. “It’s truly beautiful.”
Behind him, an alumni reception received former players with tailgate food and perfectly boxed GCU swag, commemorative softballs, and a Lope Shop gift certificate.
“We’ve spent six weeks preparing for this day to make sure it was special,” said Liz Conwell, alumni relations manager.
In the stands, GCU inaugural softball alumni Michelle Farrell, Erica Ritter and Krista Moreland reminisced about their softball days.
“There were so many memories and so many good times that we had out here,” said Farrell. “We used to draw the lines up ourselves and raked the field and did all of the maintenance. It’s changed quite a bit now. These girls have it made.”
Over the sound of the GCU softball players’ “So good! So good!” chant, Ritter found herself in familiar territory. She remembered how they, too, always had something to sing about.
“We had a lot smaller team, 16 people, who came together and had this incredible amount of energy,” said Ritter. “I feel like we’re back in college – like, let’s get back out there and play.”
Moreland, who also played on the GCU volleyball team and married an alumni baseball player, found a great deal to rave about.
“Oh gosh, that was 12 years ago,” she said with a grin.
“I think what was special about softball was the amount of love and respect we had for each other because everything that we had, including our field, was what we literally put together with the baseball team. We trenched everything and the dugouts were built by the baseball coach – it was definitely not this field. The cool thing is we kind of got to trail blaze what sportsmanship in this team was going to look like, and we navigated those fresh waters together.”
Seeing 15th-year softball head coach Ann Pierson, Moreland shook her head in disbelief.
“She still looks the same – same hat, same bun – that’s Ann,” added the faithful softball alumna. “I’ve always had a lot of respect for Ann in the sense that she knows the game really well and she’s good at teaching girls how to play the game. In our softball world, Grand Canyon was nobody, which was good and bad, but I think being the underdog was exciting and Ann taught us how to be gritty and prove ourselves. That’s something I’m still grateful for today.”
Students, community members and staff had a lot to be loud about, too.
Sophomore Andre Fitz-Maurice came prepared with friends, maracas, air horns and a Mexican matraca, or wooden noisemaker.
“We love to make it to almost every sporting event and sit right at the very front,” said Fitz-Maurice. “This gives us energy, and it gives us the embodiment of what GCU is about.”
Vanessa Monsisvais, a Deer Valley High School junior, was excited to be a part of opening day with her younger sister.
“This is awesome,” she said. “I love how GCU brings more people together.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.