The USC men’s volleyball team plays No. 14 Grand Canyon University Friday evening.
The team is coming off its biggest win of the season, with a down-to-the-wire 3-2 victory over crosstown rival UCLA on Senior Night.
Coming into the game, UCLA was the No. 3 team in the nation riding a five-game win streak. Meanwhile, USC had just lost two games straight to UC Irvine and Pepperdine, respectively, two schools the Bruins had defeated. However, the Trojans took head coach Jeff Nygaard’s comments to heart about trusting the process and honoring their four seniors: setter Gert Lisha, outside hitter Jack Wyett, opposite hitter Jon Rivera and middle blocker Conor Inlow. As a former Olympian himself, Nygaard made sure to give every senior the reverence he knows they deserve, inserting Rivera into the starting lineup alongside the three other seniors. The rest of the players did their part in respecting their graduating teammates.
Junior outside hitter Gianluca Grasso had 20 kills, two aces and two blocks while hitting .441 to lead the Trojans, while freshman middle blocker Sam Lewis added ten kills and five blocks. Usual starting opposite hitter Ryan Moss came off the bench to record nine kills, one ace and two blocks. It was Nygaard’s first victory over his alma mater, where he was a two-time National College Player of the Year in the mid-1990s, in six games.
Meanwhile, Grand Canyon is coming off an easy 3-0 win against Benedictine University at Mesa on their own Senior Night for GCU’s nine graduating players. Their senior class is arguably the most important in the program’s brief history to date (GCU became the first for-profit university to participate in NCAA D-I athletics in 2004). Some of their accomplishments include reaching the 2017 MIVA finals, remaining in the top 15 for every week of this season, and compiling the best four-year win total in program history. Senior outside hitter Shalev Saada led the Lopes with 14 kills and seven digs on a .524 hitting percentage. Senior setters Puna Kaniho and Zachary Melcher split time, with Melcher leading GCU with two aces and 23 assists, while Kaniho drew the start and recorded 11 assists. All in all, Grand Canyon head coach Matt Werle made sure to play every single one of his seniors as a testament to all they have contributed to the program’s remarkable success over the past four years.
For GCU, this will be their final game of the season, while USC has one more at Concordia University in Irvine after playing GCU. Now with a 7-17 record on the year, including a 3-7 record in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play, the Trojans look to build upon the momentum of the Senior Night festivities with two strong wins over two ranked schools. Both games have playoff implications in terms of USC’s seed.
According to the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation website, USC would clinch the MPSF Tournament’s No. 4 seed and quarterfinal home court with two wins this week.
If USC splits the games, they will need to beat Concordia and lose to GCU. This is the only way that USC could earn the four seed in a possible four-way tie when factoring in Stanford — if the Cardinal wins once this week.
If the Trojans, Eagles, Antelopes and Cardinal all finish with four MPSF wins, they would all have a 3-3 record in matches against each other. If USC wins 3-0 against CUI and loses 3-2 vs. GCU, USC’s set record vs. the tied teams would be 14-12 for the highest percentage within that tied group.
Essentially, the Trojans can control their own destiny by securing victories in their two remaining matches; a single win or two losses makes things a bit more complicated. Regardless of what happens, it will be very interesting to see on Friday night if USC has finally flipped the switch on during this rollercoaster of a season.