Grand Canyon scheduling its upcoming home opener against the powerhouse USC is more than just a match — it’s a statement for the entire university.
Coach Jeremy Price said in an interview with Off the Block earlier this week that being able to get the program’s first non-conference home match against a likely nationally ranked team is a sign of growth for the emerging NCAA Division I school.
“To get a school with the name of a USC on our campus means a lot to our administration both in the athletics department and for the university as a whole,” Price said.
The season-opener in January will be the first the first time that a men’s volleyball teams from a Pac-12 school has a traveled to Grand Canyon. In addition, it will be the second time in the six-year history of the program that the Antelopes have played host to a MPSF team.
Grand Canyon in contrast since joining the MIVA has scheduled multiple non-conference road matches each season with MPSF teams, including its only previous regular season meeting against USC in 2010.
Price said his well established relationship with USC coach Bill Ferguson played a key role in being able to schedule a home match against the Trojans.
Both coaches have spent several off-seasons working together for USA Volleyball. In addition, Grand Canyon in recent years has traveled to USC’s annual preseason tournament in the fall.
“Bill and I have had a good relationship for quite some time,” Price said. “We started talking about doing a match and presented an opportunity for him to come out.”
Price said an additional reason that helped get this non-conference match scheduled was the NCAA Tournament committee’s at-large bid selection process last season.
The committee created a controversy among the volleyball community after awarding the final at-large bid to Lewis instead of Pepperdine. Lewis despite being ranked lower than Pepperdine held an advantage over the Waves in the majority of the selection committee’s criteria categories because of their non-conference schedule strength.
“The way the NCAA Tournament went last season it certainly is a strong influence on some of the inter-conference scheduling you are seeing next year,” Price said.
Grand Canyon in return for the home match, Price said, will travel to USC for a non-conference match in a future season.
USC finished last season reaching the MPSF Tournament and at No. 10 in the final national coaches poll.
The Trojans also return a majority of starters for the 2015 season, including three-time All-American setter Micah Christenson. The senior and 2014 recipient of the Lloy Ball Award for the best setter in college men’s volleyball spent the summer playing for the U.S. Men’s National Team and helped lead the United States to a FIVB World League championship.
“We are very excited to open up against probably a top-five team with who they have coming back and with the summer that Micah had with the national team,” Price said. “They have the best setter in the country for sure.”
Grand Canyon while having a 12-6 non-conference record last season finished the MIVA in seventh place and lost in the MIVA Tournament quarterfinals.
Price said it was somewhat frustrating to perform well in non-conference play but fall below preseason expectation in the MIVA. The coach also said his team is motivated to return to the top-half of the conference standings next season.
“You set up your out-of-conference to prepare you for conference play,” Price said. “We did really well in our out-of-conference schedule and we just didn’t get it done in MIVA play. That was very disappointing.”