Men's volleyball secures first victory of the season

After a sluggish start in its 2004 campaign, the UCSD men’s volleyball team rebounded to win, 3-1, over visiting Quincy University (Ill.), setting the stage for what the Tritons hope will be a strong year.

UCSD returns four starters from last year’s 6-22 squad that finished 1-21 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. Despite the unimpressive record, the Tritons were ranked for one week in the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Top 15, which includes both Division I and Division II schools.

On top of UCSD’s very difficult conference schedule, Triton head coach Ron Larsen has also scheduled defending national champion Lewis University and Penn State, who finished last season at No. 6.

The key position for this year’s Triton team will be setter. The graduation of Eric Perrine, who led last year’s squad, will place the responsibility of guiding the offense on junior Nate Jones, although highly touted freshman Brooks Dierdorff may get a shot. The offensive weapons the setters will have at their disposal include 2003 kill leader, senior Jim Waller, who averaged 4.84 kills per game from his opposite position ‹ good for fifth in the nation. Junior outside hitter Adam Toren also returns for the Tritons after a strong 2003 campaign in which he averaged 2.49 kills per game. The other outside hitter is sophomore Jeff Urton, who started 11 matches last season and will be asked to contribute even more in 2004. Senior middle hitters Kevin Keyser and Andy Rupp will anchor the Triton block, and could be valuable offensive weapons if UCSD passes well enough to run plays out of the middle. The Triton libero is junior Dickens Tai, a crowd favorite who routinely makes spectacular defensive plays, and at only 5 feet, 6 inches is nearly a foot and a half shorter than the tallest player on the court at times.

UCSD did not start the match well. Quincy showed their regular season poise, while the Tritons struggled to move the ball. As a result, Quincy hit .391 to UCSD’s .179 in game one, and the Hawks rolled, 30-23.

UCSD showed far more composure in game two as the Tritons had 15 kills with just two errors to overwhelm the Hawks 30-21, and even the match at a game apiece. Game three was tighter, with mistakes by both sides, but in the end UCSD prevailed, 30-27. Play became slightly sloppier in game four, but the Tritons closed out the match 30-22 for a season-opening victory, while the Hawks dropped to 0-3.

After seeing his team play, Larsen’s hopes for the season stayed optimistic, and he feels that when several of his bench players recover from sickness or injury, his team will be even stronger.

“”Our expectations are high,”” Larsen said. “”We have a person off the bench at every spot who can come out and play, and there’s not going to be much or any drop-off.””

The Tritons return to action on Jan. 16 against California Baptist. In his non-conference matches, Larsen hopes that his team will achieve chemistry that will help it during the tough MPSF schedule.

“”I think more than anything else, we just have to get used to playing together and believing in the people that are next to you on the court. I think partly what I’m looking for is the commitment level of the guys on the court to each other,”” Larsen said. “”I’m looking for us to have some kind of team chemistry like that.””

If the team can achieve the kind of chemistry that Larsen describes, UCSD has the potential to turn some heads in the MPSF this season.