George Gwozdecky story by Lorne Fultonberg; Stephanie Sherlock story by Jon Stone
From perennial dominance in skiing and hockey to more recent successes in lacrosse and gymnastics to the history-making Pioneers who started the legacy, University of Denver athletics has a tradition of excellence that dates back decades.
Every two years, the department celebrates its success by inducting new members into the Athletics Hall of Fame. This year’s induction ceremony, which will take place in fall 2020, will welcome 10 individuals and two teams into the fold, among them George Gwozdecky, hockey coach from 1994–2013, and Stephanie Sherlock, a golfer who will be inducted along with her 2008–09 women’s golf team.
“These 10 individuals and two teams represented the Crimson and Gold in a tremendous way, while also laying the foundation for the broad-based academic and athletic success that their programs enjoyed in the years to follow,” says Karlton Creech, vice chancellor for athletics, recreation and Ritchie Center operations. “We look forward to celebrating their success and the legacy they’ve left on their programs and the University.”
The ice doesn’t reserve itself. The hockey equipment doesn’t show up on its own.
George Gwozdecky knows because he’s the one doing it all as head coach at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
Yep, the only guy to win an NCAA national championship as a player (Wisconsin, 1977), assistant coach (Michigan State, 1986) and head coach (DU, 2004 and 2005) is coordinating a postgame snack schedule for teenagers to eat on their bus trip home from games.
And he’s loving every moment.
“I’m having a ball,” says Gwozdecky, whose team captured its first state title in March. “It’s been a blessing for me. It’s been fun to watch these young guys develop and gain more confidence and gain more of a passion for playing hockey.”
In 2015, when he joined Valor, Gwozdecky became the highest-profile high school hockey coach in the state, if not the entire country. He was fresh off a stint as an assistant in the National Hockey League, and the work he had done at DU was nothing short of spectacular: 19 seasons, two national Coach of the Year awards and, of course, back-to-back
His fondest memories, however, are of the little things, like a night in February 1995, his first year with the team, when the NCAA announced its tournament field. Gwozdecky had flown to his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario, to be with his cancer-stricken mother. They used a satellite dish to pick up Denver’s 9News.
“They showed the reaction of the team in the lounge at the old DU Ice Arena [when they learned] that DU would play in the national tournament,” Gwozdecky says. “I remember watching our guys jump up and down, so excited to be part of the tournament, something DU hadn’t accomplished in quite a while.”
There were tough years too—the time Ritchie Center construction left the team without a home arena, and especially when his vaunted 2001–02 squad blew a third-period lead in the NCAA regional final.
“The emotional devastation those kids felt,” Gwozdecky remembers. “Just a few years later we’re skating off the ice with the championship trophy, and I’m thinking, ‘Hopefully some of the guys on that team are enjoying this a little bit, healing some of the wounds they might have from that devastating loss.’”
Gwozdecky keeps in touch with many of the players and coaches from that team and all of his teams. Above all, he says, the relationships he formed in his 19 years mean the most.
“In a team sport like hockey, one player or one coach doesn’t really make a difference,” he says. “We couldn’t have been successful unless these talented, hardworking, sincere people were here to help out.”
Join the club
Stephanie Sherlock grew up around golf, but it took a while for the sport to grab her.
Sherlock and her family moved to Barrie, Ontario, after her father completed his professional hockey career and opted to take over as superintendent of a local golf course. At that point, the 12-year-old Sherlock had barely picked up a golf club.
“I believe I was like most kids, thinking [that] golf is a little too boring, and there’s not enough action,” she says.
Sherlock (BSBA ’10) didn’t take her first lesson until she was 14, and golf didn’t become a serious part of her life until her junior year in high school. By her senior year, she was living in Florida, competing full time and trying to get good enough to earn a college scholarship. That’s when Denver came calling.
DU’s women’s golf program was relatively new at the time. Head coach Sammie Chergo had launched the program in the late 1990s, as the school transitioned from NCAA Division II to Division I. Chergo wasted no time putting the program on the map: By the time Sherlock arrived in 2006, DU women’s golf was coming off back-to-back conference championships and four consecutive bids to the NCAA regionals. The program’s next step was to qualify for the NCAA championship tournament.
“I thought, ‘Of course we are going to go to nationals my freshman year,’” says Sherlock, who played professionally after graduating from DU. That’s exactly what the team did, finishing 20th in the country after the four-day tournament.
The Pioneers finished No. 6 in the country the following season, and in 2009 the team finished with a No. 5 ranking, Sherlock placing 11th overall. To this day, it remains the best finish in program history and the last time the Pioneers qualified for the NCAA championships.
Now, more than a decade after that three-year run, DU is honoring Sherlock and the 2008–09 women’s golf team by inducting them into its Athletics Hall of Fame.
“I was shocked when I first found out, and then I felt old,” says Sherlock, who remains the program’s all-time leader in tournament wins and total birdies and ranks second in scoring average. “It was a total team effort, so I’m really glad that the team is going in. I don’t think I would have accomplished the individual goals without the team and the coaches.”
After three seasons, Sherlock retired from professional golf and returned to Barrie, working at the course where her dad has been superintendent for 22 seasons. She’s in charge of everything related to golf—events, leagues, the pro shop and the junior golf program.
“I get a huge kick out of coaching kids,” she says. “It’s a ton of fun watching them improve and just have fun on the course. We’ve got to get more kids golfing.”