Grand Canyon University recently completed its first year as a Division I program, after having to sit out of post season competition for the last 4 years. SwimSwam spoke with head coach Steve Schaffer as well as a few of GCU’s stand out athletes this year about their experience competing at the highest level.
Schaffer stated that as a team, their goal was to make NCAA’s this season and score within the top 25. The first goal was actually met sooner than they may have thought it would be, as Mark Nikolaev scored an NCAA “A” cut at the Northwestern Invite in November. Nikolaev swam a 44.99 100 backstroke leading off the GCU 400 medley relay. The relay itself came within .02 of an NCAA “A” cut, almost certainly guaranteeing a nod for the big meet as well. The team would end up swimming 3 relays at NCAA’s, the 200 and 400 medley, plus the 200 free relay.
The Men’s Division I NCAA championships is always full of surprises, and if you aren’t completely prepared for it, it can easily sweep you off your feet. The GCU men expressed that they learned a lot from just being at the meet, one that they said was the fastest competition they’ve ever been a part of.
They weren’t able to score with any of their relays, and only with Nikolaev individually. Coming into the meet, Mark was seeded 2nd with a 44.71. In prelims he swam a 45.30, which put him at a painful 9th going into finals. At night, Nikolaev dropped just under a tenth to turn in a 45.21, good for 10th and garnering the teams only 7 points of the meet. This yielded GCU 35th place overall, 10 spots back from where they wanted to be, but only 22 points out of the top 25.
Looking forward, the team was happy with the experience they gained throughout the season and hungry to chase more success in the future. Schaffer mentions that they have already developed goals for next season, hoping that a combination of returners as well as incoming freshman can contribute to further success at the NCAA level.