Volleyball opens MPSF play

Senior outside hitter Gianluca Grasso celebrates against UC Irvine at Galen Center Jan. 23. (Josh Dunst/Daily Trojan)

The No. 14 USC men’s volleyball team will host Grand Canyon University in their first match of Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference play Thursday.

Grand Canyon, who holds a 7-5 record, entered the MPSF conference just last year. The Trojans who are 6-4 and .500 in their series against GCU, having lost to the Antelopes twice last season.

Freshman outside hitter Christian Janke leads the Antelopes on offense with 175 kills this season and sophomore setter Onur Cukur leads in assists with 276 on the season. Both Janke and senior middle blocker Alex Shmelev will be players to watch on the baseline with 14 and 16 service aces, respectively.

GCU freshman libero Cole Udall anchors the back row defense with 79 digs on the season, while Shmelev and junior middle blocker Caleb Blazer have put up 48 and 41 total respective blocks in the Antelopes’ 12 games so far.

For the Trojans, senior outside hitters Ryan Moss and Jack Wyett lead the team in kills and boast .374 and .321 hitting percentages, respectively.

Wyett and senior outside hitter Gianluca Grasso bring the heat on serves and will be key players against the Antelopes with nine service aces each. Senior libero Matt Douglas and Moss anchor the back row defense with 39 and 40 digs each. Moss, with 25 blocks this season, is also a staple in the front row for the Trojans.  

Wyett said the matchup will be key for the Trojans to start conference play right.

“[We are] mentally preparing going into conference play and using our first match, if successful, as a catalyst for more success this season,” Wyett said.

The Trojans scout every team they play and watch plenty of film on their opponents before all matches, but said the only thing they can control is their contribution to the game.

“We really want to put the emphasis on us and what we’re doing on our side,” Moss said.

Ahead of the game, the Trojans  said they are looking forward to some rest and recovery, as it will be their only match this week.

“It’s our first conference play match, so we’re going to be doing a lot of game play,” Wyett said. “We’re going to study the tendencies of those guys, because that’s a good team.”

Despite being nationally ranked this week and last, the Trojans haven’t lost sight of their focus on continuing their improvement.

“At the end of the day, being ranked doesn’t have too much of an impact on what happens to the rest of the season,” Wyett said. “Everyone makes the playoffs, and we haven’t even started conference play. We didn’t look too far into it. All that really matters is playoffs.”

Thursday’s match against GCU will tip off at 7 p.m. at  Galen Center.