GCU men’s volleyball is hot: three top-10 wins in 3 weeks

It has been a good month for the Grand Canyon University men’s volleyball team.

It has been an even better week for the small Christian-based school in west Phoenix.

The result: After three wins over top-15 teams, the ‘Lopes have moved up to No. 8 in the AVCA D-I national ranking, the highest in program history.

GCU began the month by upsetting then-No. 9 Stanford with a 3-0 shutout, and then three weeks later knocked off No. 8 UCLA, 3-1, and No. 6 Pepperdine in a four-set victory — both of the last two wins in the same weekend.

The ‘Lopes are using the 2019-20- season to rewrite the school’s record books.

That Feb. 1 victory over Stanford marked the first time the school has beaten The Cardinal and kept alive a seven-game winning streak. And last weekend’s stunner against UCLA was the first time in program history that the ‘Lopes defeated the Bruins.

They used 11 aces to beat the Bruins, which ties the existing program record. Six of those came from 6’5″ sophomore outside hitter Christian Janke, who played the second-most sets in the nation last year as a freshman and was named to the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPFS) All-Freshman team. His six aces were the second-most by an individual in program history.

But it was a current freshman that played a major role in the weekend sweep of UCLA and Pepperdine. Camden Gianni, another 6’5″ outside hitter, also from Carlsbad, Calif., was named MPSF Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against the two top-10 teams.

Gianni recorded 17 kills and four blocks against UCLA, while also contributing four aces to help tie that program record for a team total. Then he topped that performance two days later against Pepperdine, posting 19 kills (a career high) and adding two aces, three digs, and a solo block.

His Offensive POW award is the third earned by GCU players this season. Janke earned the MPSF award after the Stanford win and Hugo Fischer, a sophomore opposite, won his POW the next week following a sweep of USC. The Belgium native recorded 17 kills in that match, while committing no errors and hitting a career-best .680.

The ‘Lopes entered the AVCA Top 15 rankings on Feb. 13, inserting themselves at No. 13. Since then, they have been on a rocket ship ride up the ladder.

Last year, fifth-year head coach Matt Werle put the youngest squad in his tenure on the floor, and this season was hoping to capitalize on the experience they gained while beating four top-15 teams in a span of eight days.

This year’s squad is still heavy with underclassmen – six freshmen and seven sophomores – but rich in talent. This year’s roster is deeper and more capable of scoring at every position, and has more height across the board.

Prior to the start of the season, Werle expressed high expectations for this team. “I’m super excited for where we are,” he gushed as the team was preparing for its first game. “We’re in a really good place. This is the most skilled our program has ever been.”

Werle also managed to make a little history of his own this season. The home opener over Park University was his 69th career win, which makes him the winningest men’s volleyball coach in the program’s history.

This weekend the ‘Lopes will have another chance to boost their rising national stock when they travel to the Sunshine State to take on UC Irvine, the No. 7 team in the country.

(Photo: GCU Athletics)