USC Men's Volleyball Falls To No. 9 Grand Canyon In MPSF Tourney Quarterfinals
Camden Gianni had 24 kills while hitting .697 and added 4 aces to lead the No. 9-ranked Grand Canyon men's volleyball team to a 28-30, 25-20, 25-17, 25-23 comeback victory over unranked USC in a quarterfinal match of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament on Thursday (April 22) at BYU's Smith Fieldhouse.
Grand Canyon, the fourth seed in the 7-team tourney, improved to 9-10 overall. Fifth-seeded USC ended its 2021 campaign at 5-13, having lost its final 5 matches. The Trojans' last 3 losses were to Grand Canyon, which defeated USC twice in the Galen Center to conclude Troy's 2021 regular season.
Pending the outcome of the subsequent Pepperdine-Stanford quarterfinal match, Grand Canyon will move on to play an MPSF semifinal match on Friday (April 23) against either No. 2-ranked and top-seeded BYU or No. 6 UCLA, the tourney's second seed. Tourney host BYU had a quarterfinal bye, while the Bruins defeated Concordia in 4 sets in the opening quarterfinal contest on Thursday.
USC was led by Billy Fauntleroy, who had 18 kills (9 in the first set) and 9 digs. Brandon Browning added 16 kills (hitting .393) and 4 digs, Clay Dickinson had 12 kills and Cole Paxson had 6 digs.
Gianni, the two-time MPSF Freshman of the Year, had just 1 hitting error in 33 swings. His teammates Christian Janke and Hugo Fischer each added 10 kills and 5 digs, while Ian McLain had 4 blocks and Avery Enriques had 11 digs.
Grand Canyon hit .375 in the match to USC's .316. The Lopes also had more aces (6 to 1), blocks (7.5 to 5.0) and digs (32 to 29).
"I am very proud of how they fought tonight," said sixth-year USC head coach Jeff Nygaard. "It took us a while to make some adjustments after winning the first set, but when we finally did we ended up making too many errors.
"We might have lost the match, but this team should be proud of what they overcame and accomplished this season. In the post-game talk, the players stood up and talked about how they see a bright future for this program. The graduating players know they left the program in a better place than they found it."
Said Fauntleroy, who this week was named to the 2021 All-MPSF second team: "We were in every set, but at the end of the day volleyball is a game of runs and Grand Canyon made some runs and got momentum. I truly believe if we had gone to a fifth set, we would have won. We just needed to execute better.
"I'm really proud how our team fought all season. We were right there with the best teams in the nation, just a couple points away. Our record doesn't reflect what kind of team this was. We made great strides all year and I'm confident that we've left this team in a good spot for the future."
In the first set, USC fell behind early at 4-2 and was down 16-13 before going on a 6-point run (the last 5 points with Jackson Reed at the serving line) to build a 19-16 edge, but Grand Canyon soon after scored 4 in a row to retake the lead at 23-22 and it took extra time for USC to steady itself and then tally the set's final 2 points while hitting .500.
GCU scored the first 3 points of the second set, USC tied it at 8-8, then a 3-point run gave the Lopes a 14-11 lead and the Trojans couldn't recover as Grand Canyon hit .500.
The Lopes used a 3-point run to build a 7-4 lead in the third set, then built it to 18-11 with a 4-point run and USC never threatened as Grand Canyon hit .455 and had 5.5 blocks in the set.
The fourth set stayed tight until the Trojans scored 4 consecutive points to go up 17-14 (again with Reed serving the last 3 points), but GCU got the next 3 points to tie it at 17-17 and then moved ahead 23-21, all the edge it needed to close out the match.
"I'm very pleased, but we left a lot of points out there," said Grand Canyon head coach Matt Werle, whose team is on a 5-match winning streak. "Camden was very impressive tonight. Our service pressure put us in some nice positions. We were very lucky that Fauntleroy cooled off a bit because he was doing some very nice things early. But our block started to do a good job.
"We have made tremendous strides over the past few weeks. I've been very impressed with how our team has started to perform."