Students are eager to get in the Club Sports game

As Director of Club Sports, Dan Nichols oversees tons of options for students who want to participate in athletics. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

There are many reasons why the Club Sports program at Grand Canyon University is so well-equipped for growth – coaching, facilities, the athletic training staff and strong competition come to mind right away.

That’s a lot of machinery.

Most indoor Club Sports are in the Canyon Activity Center, which features 10 regulation-size basketball courts. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

“As the word gets out, this thing is just a steamroller – it grows and grows and grows,” said Dan Nichols, Director of Club Sports. “Really, it’s just about outreach. The more you communicate with athletic directors and high schools and kids start to understand what this is, they want to participate.”

Or even before the word gets out. Even though most students had been on campus for only a day or two, there was a steady stream of them seeking information Tuesday afternoon at the Club Sports Experience, a new event in Welcome Week.

The initial numbers have been so staggering, Nichols already has raised his growth estimate substantially. Despite the pandemic, the program grew by 1% last year to 1,017 in field sports and more than 700 in esports. Now he’s forecasting a 50% jump, up from his original prediction of 30%. (Find out more about how to join here.)

The interest in basketball, volleyball and soccer, the three most popular field sports, backs him up. A lot of students, some of them probably eager to get back in the game after the last 18 months of pandemic limitations, want to wear purple with “GCU” emblazoned on the front.

Nichols watched in amazement Monday as 11 players signed up for soccer, but basketball and volleyball are attracting athletes at an even more robust pace.

Matt Gordon, in his fourth year as Director of Club Basketball Operations, said he normally has about five players signed up by Aug. 31. Tuesday, the number was 50.

Kristine Naber is beginning her sixth year as women's volleyball coach in Club Sports. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

“We should have a record number of teams this year,” said Gordon, who anticipates having at least six men’s teams. “We have a lot of returners. A, recruiting is really important, but B is retaining them to come back every year. That’s how I know we’re doing a good job – if they’re coming back.”

Kristine Naber, heading into her sixth year as the women’s volleyball coach, said she usually would have about 40 players signed up by the end of August. Tuesday, the number was 77.

“These kids want a place to play, and hopefully we’re providing a safe and great environment to meet people, to be competitive, to come in and get a break from their studies,” she said.

It doesn’t hurt that the breaks can be spent in the Canyon Activity Center, with its 10 regulation-size basketball courts and so many other amenities. Where else would an athlete want to hang out?

“It’s beautiful, so why not?” Naber said.

With opportunity comes coaching continuity.

Gordon, who previously was at Phoenix College for 14 years, was a coaching rival of Nichols – that’s why he joined Nichols at GCU. “Matt has so many contacts outside GCU,” Nichols said.

Basketball is a popular choice for both men and women.

Naber coached the GCU women’s volleyball program for 21 years before moving over to Club Sports. She had only 20 Club players her first year with a team organized by student leaders. A year later, the team won the conference championship. One year after that, it repeated as conference champ and then won the National Club Volleyball Federation title in its first try.

“It’s recruiting and word of mouth,” she said.

It also is competition. Nichols has encouraged his coaching staff to control travel by creating travel-friendly leagues. The best examples are the Arizona Men’s Basketball League and Arizona Women’s Basketball League, populated mostly by National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) schools, such as Arizona Christian University in Phoenix and Park University in Gilbert.

“We can play them, we can play each other,” he said.

A typical basketball regular season consists of 16-18 games, and volleyball includes two or three competition days in the fall and three more in the spring, plus tournaments.

As Naber said, it’s a great way to continue the athletic journey when a career in sports isn’t realistic. After all, only 7% of high school athletes go on to play college sports, and just 2% reach the Division I level.

But there are still plenty of good athletes to go around. Naber and the other coaches can choose from a long list of qualified athletes, and the campus sells itself.

“These students fall in love with GCU and make their decision to come here,” she said. “They may not be able to play at the Division I level, but we provide a place to continue playing.”

Rugby is offered exclusively through Club Sports at GCU.

The Club Sports Experience continues this week at several campus locations:

  • Wednesday: noon-5 p.m. at the Antelope Apartments pool (artistic swim, club swim, water polo) and 2-7 p.m. at the roller hockey rink and tennis courts near the CAC (hockey, roller hockey, tennis)
  • Thursday: noon-5 p.m. at the beach volleyball courts (beach volleyball, spikeball) and noon-5 p.m. in Thunderground (bowling, a cappella)

Club Sports administrators and coaches also will continue to get the word out after Welcome Week with pop-up events, student-led open gyms and information sessions.

But the word already is out. The machinery is in place, and it’s full steam ahead.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].



Men (9) – Baseball, basketball, bowling, flag football, ice hockey, lacrosse, rugby, soccer, volleyball

Women (8) – Basketball, bowling, ice hockey, lacrosse, rugby, soccer, softball, volleyball

Coed (17) – A cappella, archery, artistic swim, beach volleyball, Crossfit, esports, golf, judo, mixed martial arts, pickleball, powerlifting, roller hockey, running, spikeball, spirit, swimming, tennis, triathlon, Ultimate, water polo, wrestling


Related content: 

GCU Today: Welcome Week is here, and the Move-In is easy

GCU Today: The Rivers arrives: ‘It’s so fresh and new in here’

GCU Today: Life leaders help students feel at home on campus

GCU Today: Experiencing the sights, sounds of Welcome Week


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