By Bob Romantic
GCU News Bureau
GCU’s wrestling team is about to start picking on some programs its own size.
After knocking heads with many of the top NCAA Division I schools in the country during the 2012 portion of the wrestling season, the Antelopes switch gears in 2013 to face a slate of D-II opponents.
The first of those comes Saturday, when GCU faces four
D-II schools as part of the Grand Canyon Duals – one of the rare home appearances for the Antelopes this season. Of the four home dates on GCU’s schedule this season, this is the biggest, with 10 teams coming to town to square off in the dual-meet tournament at GCU Arena.
The next weekend, GCU heads
to Springfield, Ill., for the NWCA National Duals – an invitation-only event featuring the top 16
D-II schools in the country. The Antelopes are ranked No. 2 in the nation in Division II in the Basford National Poll and No. 6 in the National Wrestling Coaches Association poll.
“To this point of the season, we’ve been competing against a D-I schedule,” said Coach R.C. LaHaye, who has had his team facing schools such as Arizona State and Cal State Bakersfield and competing in high-level tournaments such as the Reno (Nev.) Tournament of Champions, Cowboy Open (Laramie, Wyo.) and Roadrunner Open (Fresno, Calif.).
Grand Canyon Duals (Saturday at GCU Arena) 10:45 a.m.: GCU vs. Chadron State 12:30 p.m.: GCU vs. Colorado Mines 2:15 p.m.: GCU vs. Minnesota State-Moorhead 4 p.m.: GCU vs. Minot State Other schools participating: No. 3-ranked St. Cloud State, No. 17 Colorado Mesa, Western State, California Baptist, Simon Fraser For more on the Grand Canyon Duals, click here
“We could have wrestled a soft schedule and been 25-0 or something, but that doesn’t prepare you for the end of the season,” added LaHaye. “We’re very excited to see how we compete against Division II competition.”
Carlos Maynes, GCU’s 165-pounder, said the tough competition early in the season will pay off.
“It’s good that Coach got us that experience,” Maynes said. “We got to see different styles and different techniques and get used to being on the road. Now we get to see everyone in our own conference and will have a lot more confidence.”
GCU’s lineup has been in flux during the first part of the season. Returning All-American Bobby Ward, at 149 pounds, and Lino Estrada, at 133, are now eligible after missing the first semester. And other wrestlers are working to get down to their ideal weight classes.
The Antelopes also lost a key wrestler over the Christmas break but may have found another.
Celic Bell, a returning All-American ranked No. 3 in the 197-pound weight class, left the team because of family reasons, LaHaye said. However, GCU has added Mike Hamel, a Division I transfer from the University of Wyoming who is originally from Gilbert and was a two-time high school state champion in Arizona. He will wrestle at 141 pounds.
LaHaye said Eric Fan will fill Bell’s spot at 197 pounds.
“He’s a solid backup,” LaHaye said. “This is his third year in the program and he has the potential to get to the national tournament and possibly be an All-American. We’re very confident he will step in and fill that role.”
LaHaye expects other wrestlers
to step up as well to compensate for the loss of the nationally ranked Bell.
“Lino Estrada has the ability to be an All-American. He just has to find the confidence in himself,” LaHaye said. “Brett Sanchez will also be much more competitive, much more solid.”
Sanchez, a senior who wrestles at 174, said the possibility of winning a Division II national title before the Antelopes make the jump to Division I next year has been a motivating factor for many of the wrestlers.
“I think about it all the time,” Sanchez said. “The seniors especially want to do something big.
“We’ve lost a few guys, but we have good depth behind us and have two good guys at every weight class. The new guys are ready to go, especially knowing this will be the last season we can compete for a national title.”
Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or [email protected].