Photo Courtesy of UCSD Athletics
Ending a program-record-tying six-game win streak, UC San Diego’s men’s volleyball team suffered consecutive four-set losses against No. 3 UC Santa Barbara, 22–25, 25–23, 25–21, 25–16, and No. 12 UCLA, 25–16, 23–25, 25–19, 21–25. The losses drop the Tritons to 13–5 on the season, and they face a tough conference schedule to wrap up the season.
UCSD entered UCSB’s Thunderdome on Friday as underdogs — the Gauchos had been near the top of the rankings all season — but the Tritons were on a roll after an undefeated February. That momentum followed the Tritons right into the first set, as a pair of service aces by junior outside hitter Wyatt Harrison helped UCSD to an early 5–1 lead. But the Gauchos took the lead soon after with a 7–2 run that had them up 10–9 midway through the set. Both squads would remain within 3 points for the rest of the set. But with a scant 21–20 lead for UCSD, junior opposite Collin Shannon followed a key block by junior outside hitter Kyle McCauley with an ace; a couple of points later, Shannon finished off a kill to take the set, 25–22, for the Tritons.
The second set began at a similarly hard-fought pace, and after a 7–2 run midway through the set, the Tritons were up by 4. Although UCSD was able to hold this lead until late in the set, with the score 20–16, the Gauchos scored 6 straight points, including 4 Triton errors, to take a 22–20 lead. Despite kills from McCauley and Harrison, UCSB’s momentum led to a 25–23 set victory to tie the match.
In the third set, the Tritons came out early with a 9–3 lead on three separate 3–0 runs, but that lead quickly dissolved as another 6–0 UCSB run halfway through the set had the Gauchos up 14–12. Although the Tritons came back to tie it, UCSB was able to keep them just at bay and wrapped up another comeback set victory with a 4–1 run to end it 25–21.
After losing two straight sets in which they had led by significant margins, the Tritons couldn’t match the Gauchos’ attack in the fourth, falling behind 8–2 early behind 4 errors. But unlike the UCSD leads in the last 2 sets, the UCSB lead only kept growing, as 4 consecutive kills by Gaucho setter Randy DeWeese extended the margin to 10. With a significant cushion, the Gauchos closed out the match with their third straight set, 25–16. In the loss, the Tritons were led by McCauley, with 18 kills, and senior setter Connor Walbrecht with 34 assists. UCSD notched a measly 0.0787 hitting percentage in the last three sets — even making just 5 kills to 6 errors in the final period.
The Tritons were in Westwood the next evening to face UCLA, whom the Tritons took down in straight sets on Jan. 17 for their highest-ranked win in seven years. Perhaps seeking revenge, the Bruins came out hot, scoring 5 of the first 6 points — aided by 4 Triton errors. The Tritons tried to claw their way out of the hole, but throughout the entire set, they were never able to string 2 points in a row — every UCSD point was followed by 1 from UCLA. The Bruins’ lead reached a maximum of 9 points at the end of the set, as a service error from sophomore outside hitter Charlie Siragusa ended the set 25–16.
The second set started out much more evenly, as Harrison and McCauley got into stride and kept pace with the Bruin attack. But neither team would get more than 2 points away from each other until 3 straight UCSD points late in the set gave the Tritons a 23–20 lead. Although the Bruins responded by closing the lead to 24–23, UCSD sophomore middle blocker Shane Benetz finished off the set with a kill. The third set was similarly tense, as once again, neither team could gain much of an advantage until deep in the set. But this time it was the Bruins who would emerge from the mire, as a kill, an ace, and a pair of massive blocks on McCauley gave UCLA the last 4 points of the set, which they took 25–19.
In the fourth set, the Bruins eked out the smallest of leads, starting up 4–2, and kept a lead of either 1 or 2 for the majority of the set, all as the Tritons failed to make a run to close the small gap. A McCauley kill and a bad set from UCLA had the Tritons within one, 21–20, but the Bruins responded with a pair of blocks to extend the lead to 3; soon after, a UCLA ace sealed the set for the Bruins, 25–21. McCauley and Walbrecht once again led the Tritons with 14 kills and 35 assists, respectively; the Tritons were out-blocked, 12–3, and ended with a hitting percentage of .202 to the Bruins’ .427.
The two losses have stunted the Tritons’ momentum at a time they need it most — after a date with No. 8 Pennsylvania State University on March 11 at RIMAC Arena, UCSD will have 16 days of rest before traveling to Honolulu to take on No. 1 University of Hawai’i in a pair of matches on March 27 and 28 that both start at a late 9:00 p.m. Pacific time.