Tritons lead the nation

    Although in the UCSD women’s volleyball team’s three years in Division II, it has never claimed a California Collegiate Athletic Association championship, the Lady Tritons are the current holders of an even more impressive title: number one team in the nation.

    UCSD, (10-1 overall, 4-0 in the CCAA) received 30 of the possible 35 first-place votes in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association Division II poll on the strength of an impressive preseason. At the Radisson Coyote Classic in San Bernardino, the Tritons opened 3-0, knocking off both BYU Hawaii and Western Washington ó the preseason No. 1 and No. 10 teams respectively ó in the process. UCSD then proceeded to show that it belonged in the top spot by winning three out of four matches in two days in Hawaii, beating Chaminade, No. 14 Hawaii Pacific, No. 5 Barry and losing only to defending national champion BYU Hawaii in a five-game match at the end of the trip.

    Triton head coach Duncan McFarland said the number one ranking has taken a little while to get used to.

    “”I think it caught us a little bit by surprise when it happened, but I think the team deserved it after a great start,”” he said. “”Once we got back and got that ranking, I think it threw us off a little bit because it wasn’t on any of our goal sheets.””

    Upon their return home, the Tritons opened the CCAA schedule with home matches against CSU Stanislaus, CSU Bakersfield, CSU Dominguez Hills, and No. 25 CSU Los Angeles. UCSD dropped only one game during the four-match stretch, and established their perfect 4-0 record in the conference.

    High expectations and goals are the norm within the UCSD huddle.

    “”Number one on a lot of goal sheets was winning a national championship, but then what was more important was the process we would try to take to get there, and that meant training hard,”” McFarland said.

    The Tritons obviously trained hard over the summer, and McFarland called his team’s fitness level the best he’d seen while coaching at UCSD. Combined with the tremendous amount of talent the Tritons have brought back, the future looks bright.

    Setter Teresa Ohta, middle blockers Katie Hogan and Kendra Canape, and outside hitters Bonnie Wilson and Stacy Dunsmore lead a talented class of juniors who return from last year.

    Ohta ó who ranks among the nation’s leaders in assists ó provides guidance for the Triton offense, and will lead a high-powered attack this season. Her primary target figures to be Wilson who led last year’s club with 4.15 kills per game. Dunsmore also provides another offensive option, and her all-around play that has helped her lead the team in digs with 4.07 per game this year is also a valuable asset. The addition of transfer Lindsay Crandell will give UCSD yet another dangerous option from the outside, and could pose problems for opposing blockers to set themselves against the tempos of the Triton’s three big hitters.

    UCSD’s effort in the blocking department this season will be led by middles Hogan and Canape. Hogan’s solid play and consistency along with Canape’s high-flying energy combine for a very effective combination. The newfound ability to take over a game through the block as the Tritons did during the CSULA match should serve as a valuable weapon in UCSD’s title quest.

    Adding to the mix will be the senior duo of Lauren Mills and Ashley Peterson, who will share the responsibilities at the opposite position. Peterson’s size and blocking ability along with Mills’ quickness and athleticism give McFarland a very strong front row/ back row platoon.

    The role of libero ó a back-row defensive specialist who neither serves nor attacks and has unlimited substitutions ó will be held primarily by sophomore Laura Watkins, although Ohta’s backup at setter, senior Denelle Smalley, might also see time at the position.

    Injuries and sickness have diminished the Tritons’ depth, especially at middle blocker, but UCSD retains a batch of talented players capable of filling in at each position.

    For the Tritons to hold onto the top spot in the rankings all the way through the national championship game in December, they know that they will have to continue to match their high level of play.

    “”[The key is] consistency. Not playing like we’re on a roller coaster, not going up and down, just playing consistent all the way through,”” said Ohta, one of the team captains.

    That consistency will be tested as the Tritons embark on a five-game road trip from Sept. 26 through Oct. 4, in which they will encounter defending conference champion and third-ranked CSU San Bernardino, UCSD’s biggest volleyball rival.

    Though predictions at this point in the season are highly uncertain, should the Tritons continue their early tear and play consistently this year, the two words at the top of the UCSD goal sheets might apply very nicely: national champions.

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