PHOENIX, Arizona, November 27. THE Grand Canyon University men's and women's swimming teams will shift from Division II to Division I next year, a move that was announced in a press conference today.
The Antelopes will finish off this season as a Division II team, then officially become a Division I team starting with the 2013-2014 season. As with all universities that transition between divisions, Grand Canyon will be able to compete against Division I teams in dual meets but will not be allowed to participate in the NCAA championship meet until the four-year transition period ends.
“We are very excited about the move,” swimming head coach Steve Schaffer told Swimming World today. “We have worked very hard over the last four years to build a successful program based on the idea that we are our swimmers' last coaches, and our job is to help them be successful in not just swimming but all aspects of their lives. That will continue to be our approach as we move to DI.”
The announcement comes just five years after Grand Canyon swimming became an official Division II team. In that time, the team has improved in prominence at the national level, finishing as high as fourth at the NCAA championships for the men's team in 2011. In 2012, both teams placed fifth overall, boasting Eetu Karvonen and Mychala Lynch as national champions, a first for the program. Karvonen and Lynch are both seniors this season.
The March championships in Alabama will mark a final hurrah for Grand Canyon at the Division II level, and a final chance to secure the elusive team title. Schaffer is aware of the work that lies ahead for Grand Canyon to be competitive when it makes its Division I debut next season. The women will compete in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), but it's not known which conference the men will compete in, since the WAC does not sponsor a men's swimming conference championship.
“Building a program is a process, and we know this will be a challenge that we will meet head on,” Schaffer said. “I think our women's program has quite a way to go in terms of competing with some very good team in the WAC, but we will be fully funded and will begin using those extra 5.9 scholarships to recruit with immediately. Our men will be a bit more competitive from the beginning in terms of conference level swimming.”
Schaffer has built a strong coaching staff around him, likely in anticipation of the NCAA transition. Takahisa Ide, a longtime coach to several Japanese national champions, was promoted to full-time assistant coach this season after two years working on a part-time basis. Loic Joseph is new to the collegiate ranks, having coached age group swimmers for two years in North Dakota.
Grand Canyon has 11 men's sports and 10 women's sports.