Grand Canyon softball’s WAC defense in full-swing after most successful season in program history

The 2024 season has been a testament to the continued excellence of GCU Softball under the guidance of coach Shanon Hays. (File photo by Susan Wong/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Since Shanon Hays took over the Grand Canyon softball team as coach in the summer of 2021, the Antelopes have been a force to reckon with in the Western Athletic Conference.

The Lopes cross the midway point of the 2024 campaign sitting at 30-8 following invitationals at home, a short ride east to take on in-state rival Arizona State in Tempe and their first four weekends of WAC play.

In Hays’ first two seasons with the program, GCU posted a staggering combined 86-29 record, while going 36-12 in conference play, and won the WAC Tournament title both years to earn its first two NCAA Tournament appearances.

Hays has excelled since taking over the reins from Ann Pierson, the only previous coach in GCU softball history. During her 17 seasons at the helm, Pierson’s teams posted a 490-389-3 overall record.

But don’t tell Hays that he’s the reason for the remarkable turnaround.

“It’s been all about the players that we’ve recruited and what they’ve done on the field,” Hays said.

The 2023 season is particularly memorable for the Lopes’ first NCAA Tournament victory, as they beat the No. 2 overall seed UCLA squad 3-2 in the regional round.

“It was definitely my favorite memory of last season,” junior pitcher Meghan Golden said.

GCU dropped the next two games and failed to advance to the Super Regional round, but the standard was set.

The NCAA tournament appearance capped off arguably the greatest season in history for GCU softball, which also set a new record for wins in a season with 47, breaking their record from the previous season’s 39.

This type of success, coupled with the culture among the team, is making the Lopes a premier destination for transfers to come to the Valley and compete with them. Among the transfers for the 2024 season is star outfielder Ashley Trierweiler, a second-team all-American from Santa Clara.

As GCU softball continues to dominate the WAC, the focus remains on sustaining momentum and clinching a third consecutive conference championship. (File photo by Susan Wong/Cronkite News)

As GCU softball continues to dominate the WAC, the focus remains on sustaining momentum and clinching a third consecutive conference championship. (File photo by Susan Wong/Cronkite News)

Trierweiler is living up to the Lopes’ expectations, recording seven hits, four RBIs, and three runs in GCU’s series against Utah Valley. This brings her total to 49 hits, 20 RBIs and 37 runs on the season.

With numbers like that, it’s no surprise that Lopes softball expects to continue to build what the program has already created since Hays took over. And the other coaches in the WAC agree. Eight out of 10 coaches in the WAC ranked GCU first in the conference preseason poll, so all eyes are on the Lopes’ pursuit of a third straight WAC conference championship.

“We’re mainly focused on just getting better and better every day, but it’s a nice feeling to know that the other coaches see the same things we are seeing out there,” Hays said about the preseason poll.

The Lopes are currently in first in the WAC standings after four weekends of conference action. GCU is hot, riding a five-game winning streak following a doubleheader sweep over California Baptist Lancers in Phoenix, and a three-game sweep against Utah Tech in St. George, Utah.
Returning to Phoenix to lead the Lopes one more time is graduate senior Kristin Fifield. A member of both Lope squads that booked trips to the last two big dances, Fifield comes back ready to see them to a third straight NCAA appearance.

Fifield joins Trierweiler at the top of the GCU offensive leaderboards with 45 hits, 39 RBIs and 29 runs on a 39.1% batting average.

Junior pitcher Meghan Golden is another prominent player coming back to lead GCU, this time defensively. She is spearheading a Lopes’ pitching group highly praised by Hays this season.

Golden was dynamite during the 2023 season. In 22 starts, Golden pitched a team-best 2.06 era, pitched two no-hitters, seven complete games, led the WAC in strikeouts and was named to the All-WAC first team before an injury late into the season shut her down.

This veteran-laden Lope squad has all the experience and talent to finish this final full month of regular season play strong and return to the NCAA Tournament. The Lopes are home for a three-game conference series against UT Arlington beginning Friday at GCU Softball Stadium, with eyes on the WAC Tournament beginning May 8.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Connor Manning expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Manning has interned as a sports play-by-play announcer, play analyst and radio show co-host for Varsity Media Foundation in Phoenix.