New program

Steve Schafer comes to Benedictine University at Mesa to become the men's and women's golf coach after spending three years as the head men’s basketball coach and head women’s golf coach at Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Mo.

The recent growth in college athletics in the Phoenix area has been a blessing.

Arizona Christian University added football to an already in place sports department, Grand Canyon has moved up to Division I in all of its sports and now Benedictine University is popping up in Mesa.

It’s changed the landscape for area high school kids good enough to continue playing sports at the next level. When I first moved here from Ohio, Arizona was the complete opposite of what I was used to when it came to opportunities for playing at the next level.

In Ohio there are six Division I programs and countless NAIA, Division II and III athletic programs but very few junior colleges whereas Arizona had only three big programs in Arizona State, Arizona and Northern Arizona and a lot of junior colleges.

The Arizona situation left a lot of quality high school athletes with nowhere to go in state to continue playing.

Now with ACU and GCU putting more emphasis on athletics and Benedictine emerging, the athletes of the Valley can see their goal of playing at a four-year institution come to fruition.

Benedictine will have golf, cross country, volleyball and tennis to start its first year and the sports will be considered club teams while seeking membership in multiple national organizations and conferences.

Eventually, the sports department is expected to add men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, softball and baseball for the 2015-16 school year.

Word is starting to get out about the new opportunity as three area kids – Mountain Pointe’s Justin Hyden and Ben Potter along Desert Vista’s Ryan Witte – are signing on Thursday to play golf for Benedictine.

How cool will it be for these guys, all of whom are transferring from Mesa Community College, to help start a new program as juniors and have a chance to set the foundation for the program for years to come?

It’s a unique and special opportunity.

One that wasn’t even imaginable just a few short years ago.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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