GCU regrouping after a change in men’s volleyball coach

The men’s volleyball program at Grand Canyon University is just two years old and was beginning to pick up momentum when an unexpected coaching change left it temporarily rudderless.

And almost cost the program a prized recruit.

Tim Speer, who started the program and guided it the first two years, resigned shortly after the 2010 season ended in April and it wasn’t until last month that the school named Jeremy Price as the new head coach.

Price comes from a four-year stint at Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA., where he was the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA) Coach of the Year and led the program to its highest EIVA finish ever that year.  Prior to that, he coached at the United States Naval Academy.

But it was Speer that had made the initial contact with a standout athlete at California High School in Whittier.  Keith Smith was ready to commit to GCU, but decided to hold off on his decision when he found out Speer was gone and the program was without a head coach.

The 6’4″ setter/hitter averaged 16 kills, eight assists, and 10 digs per match as a senior, which earned him the league co-MVP honors.  Smith, who was a three-time First Team selection by the Daily News, helped the school to a 21-6 record and the Del Rio League championship.

Price, the new coach, got a look at the elusive recruit during summer competition and contacted Smith when he was playing for the USAV boys junior national team – which won the championship this year.

The rest, as they say, is history.  Smith signed a letter of intent last week.

He now joins a trio of earlier recruits that includes a couple of junior college standouts and a player from Belgium.

Taylor Galliano is a 6’4″ middle blocker and Jordon Tarantino is a 6’4″ opposite, both from Irvine Valley Community College in California.

Galliano was ranked No. 1 in the California Community College Association in blocks (1.63 per match) and 15th in hitting percentage (.339).  Tarantino, who will start at GCU as a sophomore, was fifth in the state in service aces (.45) and 10th in kills (3.88).

The foreign acquisition is Ben Ponnet, a 6’5″ outside hitter who has been playing for Belgium’s youth national squad.  He’ll be a freshman this season.

The Antelopes, who finished 14-26 last season, play in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Vollleyball Association, generally considered to be one of the NCAA’s top volleyball conferences.

They play a very competitive schedule, taking on schools like Ohio State, UCLA, Pepperdine, and USC in an effort to accelerate the quality of the program.

Price has stepped in on the ground floor of a program on the rise.  Holding on to Smith should provide a key piece for the foundation he needs to build.

(Photo: GCU Athletics/Tim Koors)