Mesa, Ariz. ~ When was the last time a college athletics program barely three years old began making noise on a national scale?
Welcome to Benedictine University at Mesa.
The Redhawks (a nickname chosen by students in January 2015), who condition at a local YMCA, play indoor sports at a nearby community college and only gained full membership in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) last year, are proving that you don't have to have a big reputation or multimillion dollar facilities to make a big splash.
Leading the way at BenU at Mesa is the men's basketball team, which won its last six games to finish 9-1 in the California Pacific Conference (CAL PAC) and 14-15 overall in 2015-16. With three returning starters – Troy Conley (Cleveland, Ohio ; Chaparral H.S.), Richie Thornton V (Las Vegas, Nev.; Bishop Gorman H.S.) and Jorge Cano (Phoenix, Ariz.; Maryvale H.S.) – the Redhawks have been picked to win the conference and are listed just outside the top 25 in the preseason NAIA Division II national poll.
"The sky is the limit for this team, but in order to meet our expectations we have to make it a point to improve each day and continue to come together," said head coach Steve Schafer.
Meanwhile, the women's volleyball team, which went from club status in 2014-15 to a 17-7 record in its first season as an intercollegiate program last year, is 19-7 this fall and finished 10-4 in the conference to earn a berth in the CAL PAC tournament semifinals. The future looks equally bright for the Redhawks under head coach Sonia Jones, who will graduate just six of the 24 players on her roster.
Not to be overshadowed, the women's basketball team is 3-2 in its inaugural season as an NAIA program behind Netherlands native Felicia Foster, Eastern Arizona College import Alexis Todd (Gilbert, Ariz.; Dobson H.S.) San Diego State transfer Kylie Herd (Phoenix, Ariz.; Arcadia H.S.) and Mesa native Erica Vasquez (Red Mountain H.S.; Mesa Community College).
"I know a lot of our players are just so excited to represent our University in a positive way," said head coach Brian Hutchins, who came to Benedictine after building a very successful program at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert, Ariz.
Also this fall, the second-year men's and women's cross-country programs competed at the conference meet with sophomore Monica Soliz (Cottonwood, Ariz.; Mangus Union H.S.) finishing just two positions outside all-conference honors after slicing more than three minutes off her previous race.
"When we developed our athletic department, our goal was to create the best possible experience we could for our student-athletes," said Schafer, who doubles as athletic director at BenU at Mesa.
So far, the student-athletes at BenU at Mesa are making the most of that opportunity.
Benedictine University at Mesa is a branch campus of Benedictine University, an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine was named among “America’s Top Colleges” for the sixth consecutive year in 2016 by Forbes magazine. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (602) 888-5500, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ben.edu/mesa.