“It’s one of the biggest weekends in our program’s history,” says Jeremy Price.
Ok, so the Grand Canyon University men’s volleyball program is only four years old. But the second-year head coach had special reason to celebrate the Antelopes’ wins over the weekend.
The Friday win over Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) was the first-ever conference road win, and the two-day sweep of IPFW was not only the first-ever conference sweep, but it gave the Lopes sole possession of first place in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association.
GCU has a half-game lead on Lewis University (Illinois), the No. 6 ranked team in the country.
So far, it has been a turn-around season for the Division II college in west Phoenix. At 14-9 overall, the men’s volleyball team, which returned 13 players from last season, has almost doubled the number of wins it had last year – and it’s 5-1 in conference play.
In Friday’s game, the Lopes dominated the first set, hitting .684, with 13 kills and no errors on 19 attempts. They came from behind to win the next two sets to finish off a 3-0 win (25-18, 25-23, 26-24).
Jordon Tarantino finished with 10 kills and a .318 attack average. Freshman middle blocker, Ryan Mather, had six block assists as the Lopes had 12 team blocks to seven by IPFW. And the sophomore setter, Keith Smith, had 32 assists to go with his three block assists.
A 3-1 win Saturday gave GCU the sweep of the series, as the Lopes got good play from their middles and combined for an impressive team blocking effort. But the service game is what really separated the two teams, as the Lopes had four aces and only five errors in the four-set match.
Offensively, Mather was error-free with eight kills on 11 attempts, while middle hitter, Taylor Galliano, had 10 kills and a .364 attack average. As a team, IPFW had more kills, 70 to GCU’s 50, but the Mastadons also had a crippling 22 service errors.
Tarantino and Ben Hunt, the 6’5″ outside hitter, each had nine digs, while junior libero Trent Bruns had eight. Bruns, a junior from Mission Viejo, Calif., was ranked No. 1 in the nation at his position in an early February NCAA posting.
The Lopes will close out March with Loyola Chicago and Lindenwood, but then will wrap up the season with a couple of big tests. April will open against Ohio State, the defending national champion, and then the final matches are against Lewis.
The program has come a long way this year, but its perceived success will be defined by how well it closes out the season. And that will be a tall order for a four-year-old program.
(Photo: GCU Athletics/ Jerry L. Bauer)