GCU Track and Field season preview

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The Grand Canyon University men's and women's track and field squads are set to open their 2014 indoor slate tomorrow when they travel north to Flagstaff, Ariz., to compete in the NAU Lumberjack Team Challenge. The meet will mark the first official competition for the Antelopes after transitioning to the NCAA Division I level.

The 'Lopes will be eligible to compete in the Western Athletic Conference Championships in Moscow, Idaho on Feb. 26-28, but are unable to continue their indoor season at the NCAA Championships due to NCAA rules pertaining to the transition period.

"Both our men's and women's teams are definitely excited about our transition to the NCAA Division I level and for the opportunity to challenge for an indoor conference championship in our first year in the WAC," said head coach Tom Flood, the 2013 West Region Coach of the Year.

This weekend's meet in Flagstaff will not be the lone time GCU visits the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome, as the 'Lopes will return to compete in the NAU Invitational next weekend and Mountain T's Invitational Feb. 7-8. The 'Lopes will close out the indoor chapter of the track and field season Feb. 26-28, competing in the WAC Indoor Championships hosted by the University of Idaho.

"We all are very excited for this season to begin, we've had an outstanding fall," said Flood. "As always with our first indoor meet, we will try and shake off a little holiday rust this Friday at NAU and begin our run for what we hope are team titles at this year's WAC Indoor Championships."

"Again right out of the blocks, we will see where we stand against several NCAA Division I powerhouse track and field programs in Arizona State, Arizona and NAU," Flood added. "Both Arizona's (women) and NAU's (men) cross country teams had runner-up finishes at this year's NCAA Cross Country Championships."

Both the Arizona State men's and women's teams are ranked 21st and 23rd in the USTFCCCA poll, respectively. The Arizona men's team also cracked the top 25, as the Wildcats find themselves ranked 17th in the poll. Additional teams in this weekend's meet are Northwestern State University, UC Riverside, UNLV, Cal State Dominguez Hills, Cal State Fullerton, and host Northern Arizona.

After strong showings at the Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships a year ago, where the women finished third and the men finished 10th, the 'Lopes return a number of All-Americans who look to improve on their marks and times in 2014.

On the men's side, Oliver Smith returns to the track after the senior earned All-American honors in the 400-meter dash a year ago, placing eighth at the indoor championships with a time 47.92. Sprinter Dario Horvat had a tremendous year in 2013, tagged as the fastest man in Croatia in 2010 and 2011. Horvat took home a third place finish at the indoor championships in the 60-meter dash.

Fellow speedster AAron Hill also returns after an impressive indoor season in 2013, where the Gilbert native qualified for the indoor championships in the 60-meter dash and also placed tenth in the long jump at the same meet. Stephan Bullard is back running mid-distance events for the 'Lopes after a great junior season, where he finished ninth in the championships in the 800-meter run.

On the field side of things, Kevin Lashley will be back competing after taking home a fourth place finish last season at the indoor championships in the long jump. Lashley also tallied some impressive numbers in the triple jump a season ago. Karlin Stewart, the 2012 long jump indoor national champion, will be back as well for the 'Lopes joining Lashley in the long jump pit.

On the women's side, Shavine Hodges returns for her senior campaign after a stellar year in 2013, where the sprinter captured a second place finish in the 60-meter dash and also helped the women's 4x400-meter relay team pick up a silver in the event at the indoor championships. Fellow senior sprinter Samantha Bogatz will also be back for the 'Lopes. Junior Samantha Bogatz, who was also a part of the 4x400-meter relay team, raced to a second place finish at the indoor championships in the 400-meter dash with a time of 53.59.

In the field events, Brianne Kee will look to better her 2013 mark in the long jump, as her leap of 6.01 meters (19 feet, 8.75 inches) earned her a second place finish last March in Birmingham. Triple jumper Jessica Yates returns after a strong showing a season ago and will be relied upon to contribute to the 'Lopes efforts in the field events.

Michael Bolligar, a senior transfer from Washington State, will make an immediate impact for the 'Lopes. He owns the second-best heptathlon mark in the Cougars program history. A complete roster for the 2014 season can be found by clicking here (men) and here (women), while the indoor schedule can be viewed here.

"We have some tremendous senior leadership and add to that a very talented group of new comers, we will look to make our presence known right away within the WAC," Flood stated. "It has been our goal since the first day of practice to become the first team in school history to win a conference championship at the Division I level."

Fans can follow the 'Lopes throughout the 2014 season by visiting www.gculopes.com.