Coach Jeremy Price is the first admit last season for Grand Canyon was a disappointment but the Antelopes could be ready for a big bounce-back season.
Price in a recent interview with Off the Block said that several subtle adjustments within the program and a revamped training session should help Grand Canyon return to the top-half of the conference standings.
Check out Off the Block’s interview with Price as the coach discusses improvements to Grand Canyon’s off-season program, being able to schedule a home match versus USC and the growth of volleyball in Arizona.
Off the Block: You’re season opener at home is going to be against USC. What does this type of home match not only mean to your program but to the entire Grand Canyon University community with the way the school seems to be rapidly growing in the last few years?
Jeremy Price: With our athletics department this is going to be the second year of our reclassification to NCAA Division I. Obviously that didn’t effect us in men’s volleyball. We kept the same conference and everything. To get a school with really a name like USC on our campus means a lot to our administration both in the athletics department and for the university as a whole.
OTB: Not only with your team, but across the nation we’re seeing more non-conference matches this season against the MPSF. From your standpoint do you think these matches were a byproduct of the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s decision last season to give Lewis the at-large bid or was it just a matter of these West Coast teams having more open dates?
JP: The way the NCAA Tournament selection process went last year there is certainly a strong influence on some of the inter-conference scheduling you are seeing. Unfortunately, another very valid reason is they do have a few more dates leftover with the decline of the Pacific program. That’s obviously a big negative. We played Pacific every year since I’ve been here. We defeated them the last couple of years. They were good matches. You don’t want to see a program no longer exist. By those teams have two more matches, though, it creates more opportunities for inter-conference play.
OTB: Things went a little sideways for you’re team in conference play last season finishing in seventh place but having a winning record in non-conference play. What do you have to do to bounce back and make a run for a conference title?
JP: Last year was interesting because we played really well out of conference. You set up your out-of-conference schedule to prepare you for conference play. We played obviously several MPSF teams last year. We played a couple EIVA teams. We played the Conference Carolinas. We even played some really solid NAIA teams. We did really well in our out-of-conference schedule, and we just didn’t get it done in the MIVA play. That was very disappointing. We’ve re-evaluated what we did training-wise. Any time you have a conference schedule go the way it did we re-evaluate some things: scheduling philosophies, when are trying to play some out-of-conference teams. We made a few subtle changes. Basically, we just need to be a little bit better in conference. Our conference is really good. The national champion has come from our conference two out of the last four years. … Obviously getting Lewis in as an at-large team showed the depth of the quality of our conference. There are no easy nights in the MIVA. I think that was made apparent last year, and really in the last couple of years but for us last year. So we are really focused on doing the right things to prepare us. We have some very clear goals. We want to put ourselves in a position to at least host a conference playoff match.
OTB: You’re losing from last year’s team All-MIVA outside attacker Ben Ponnet who was such an integral part of your offense. As a coach when you are getting ready for the preseason does it change your mind-set when you have to fill that kind of void in your line-up?
JP: It’s different for a sport like ours because we don’t start until January. So we have a fall semester to have some workouts and have some training sessions, to do our fall season and see some things before we really see the effect of the loss of someone as good as Ben — and really some other seniors we stepped-up for us in their careers. It will be a little bit different. We are fortunate that we get Ryan Mather back. He’s been a two-time all-conference selection, and he missed last year due to micro-fracture surgery. For us to get him back coming off an injury is exciting for us.
OTB: We’ve heard a lot in recent years about the growth of boys volleyball in Arizona. You are right there living in the state. Are you seeing the explosion of growth and what is it like to be in a state that is producing more volleyball talent?
JP: We are seeing that. We’ve seen success of Arizona teams at the club level, which is a great thing. We are seeing a team coming out of Arizona winning the 18-open at [USA Volleyball] Boys Junior Nationals. In 2013, two of the top four teams in the club division were from Arizona. High school volleyball is getting better and better, and deeper and deeper. Is it as deep as in other parts of the country, no. But it certainly pretty good. I’m excited to see that. A NAIA program at Benedict is going to be adding men’s volleyball in two years. So there will be another program in Arizona, which as far as I’m concerned the better it is for the growth of the game. I’m happy for them and to really see the sport continue to grow out here.