Up trend: GCU men’s volleyball program is latest Antelopes team to gain national attention

GCU’s men’s volleyball team celebrates after earning the program’s first-ever No. 1 national ranking this season. (Photo courtesy of GCU Athletics)

PHOENIX – Following the announcement of Jamie Boggs taking over the athletic program at Grand Canyon University, sports across the board reached heights not seen in the school’s 10-year Division I era.

The men’s basketball team earned three NCAA tournament appearances in four seasons, including the program’s first tournament victory in March, while the women’s basketball team finished second in the Western Athletic Conference this year. The softball squad, meanwhile, is on pace for its third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

Even club sports are seeing ascension and success, with the men’s hockey team competing in its first national tournament game during Bogg’s tenure.

Boggs has been a supporter every step of the way, reposting every victory tweet on the social media platform X.

“It’s a testament to what our athletic administration provides,” GCU men’s volleyball coach Matt Werle said. “What they give to us, and what they provide to us to allow us to find this excellence. As the school grows, the support grows.”

The men’s volleyball program is joining the list of GCU teams that are catapulting to the top.

While success hasn’t come overnight, the Lopes’ volleyball crew has been making history year after year recently.

In 2021, the Antelopes defeated then-No. 1 BYU to earn their first win over a top-ranked team. In 2022, the Lopes made history against the Cougars again, sweeping BYU in Provo to earn their first weekend road sweep against a ranked opponent. In 2023 volleyball skyrocketed, as GCU set the program record for wins in a season (22), and followed it up with the team’s first appearance in the NCAA men’s volleyball tournament.

2024? A No. 1 ranking of their own for the first time ever. Not just for men’s volleyball, but a first for any Grand Canyon team in any sport.

In the Week 8 edition of the National Collegiate Volleyball Association/National Volleyball Association coaches poll, the Lopes usurped the team that knocked them out of the NCAA tournament last May, Long Beach State, for the top spot.

“We’re definitely proud, but to me it’s still unfinished business,” Werle said. “But getting that No. 1 recognition midway through the year is something to be extremely proud of to get that respect from coaches across the country.”

The 22-4 Lopes aren’t finished yet. They closed out the regular season with home sweeps Thursday and Friday against No. 9 ranked Pepperdine at GCU’s Global Credit Union Arena, and are now preparing for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championship in Los Angeles April 17-20.

“When I first came here, it was always the goal to do something that GCU’s never done before,” setter Nicholas Slight said via Grand Canyon athletics. “Ever since we’ve stepped foot on campus, it’s been like, ‘This is what we can do.’”

The “Maestro,” as Slight is known to his teammates, is the player who makes the Lopes offense run efficiently. As their starting setter, he is the clear leader in assists with 918 this year. No one else is even at 50.

The Lopes sat at No. 1 for two straight weekends before dropping back-to-back matches to the University of California-Irvine and the University of Hawaii, both currently ranked in the top five.

With the postseason rapidly approaching, GCU currently sits at No. 3 in the AVCA national poll. Werle, in his ninth season at the program’s helm, is ready for all that is to come the rest of the way.

“Last year’s excellence of getting to the NCAA tournament was such a big thing for us of just having confidence going into this year, now knowing what it takes to get to this point,” he said.

The results speak for themselves. The men’s volleyball squad has put together quite the resume in 2024, defeating several ranked teams this season. Notable wins over ranked teams include No. 17 California State-Northridge, No. 18 California-San Diego, and sweeps over conference foes No. 6 BYU, No. 10 USC and No. 8 Stanford.

The recent success across the athletic board at Grand Canyon exhibits exciting promise for the future of the university’s programs.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Connor Manning expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Manning has interned as a sports play-by-play announcer, play analyst and radio show co-host for Varsity Media Foundation in Phoenix.