Men's volleyball upsets Penn State

    After logging nearly 10,000 miles in air travel over the past two weeks, the UCSD men’s volleyball team arrived in University Park, Penn., for the Penn State Invitational with an opportunity. The Tritons left with a split. UCSD dropped a 3-1 decision to defending national champion No. 13 Lewis University before rebounding to top the No. 11 Nittany Lions of Penn State, 3-2. UCSD is now 5-5 overall and 2-3 in conference play.

    Courtesy of Lori Drahota
    Guardian file

    Coming off two tough Mountain Pacific Sports Federation losses at Hawaii, the Tritons trekked across the nation to Penn State where the level of competition remained high. Coming into the match with a 4-5 record, Lewis looked beatable, but UCSD was unable to take advantage of the opportunity. Despite hitting just .114 in the first game, the Flyers grabbed a 30-27 decision over the Tritons to take the early lead in the match.

    UCSD appeared to shake off the jet lag in game two as it pounded the ball on offense, completing 22 kills and only six errors on 37 attempts. Lewis was unable to respond with firepower of its own and the Tritons cruised to a 30-22 victory.

    In game three, however, the tables were turned as UCSD was once again plagued by hitting errors on offense, and the Flyers were able to coast to a 30-23 win with an efficient attack that was able to minimize critical mistakes.

    The fourth game proved to be the one that Lewis would need to put away the Tritons, as 11 UCSD hitting errors foiled any hope the Tritons had of forcing a deciding fifth game. The Flyers grabbed the game at 30-27 to end the match.

    Junior outside hitter Adam Toren and senior opposite Jim Waller shared team-high honors in kills with 15 apiece, while senior middle hitters Kevin Keyser and Andy Rupp added 10 each. Junior setter Nate Jones had 58 assists and junior libero Dickens Tai added 16 digs for UCSD.

    With little rest for the weary, the Tritons returned to the court the following evening, Feb. 7, to take on tournament host Penn State. The Tritons proved their intention to be rude guests right away by stealing a tight game one at 35-33 by virtue of a strong .410 attacking percentage compared to Penn State’s .229.

    The Nittany Lions were not to be embarrassed in front of a home crowd of 1,621, however, and Penn State roared back to grab game two, 30-26.

    Led by Keith Kowal- who finished the match with 23 kills to lead all players ó the Nittany Lions grabbed game three, 30-25, and appeared ready to send the Tritons home empty-handed.

    UCSD was not to be denied, however, and the Tritons emerged from a hard-fought fourth game with a 30-27 win and an opportunity to take the match in the fifth and deciding game.

    UCSD head coach Ron Larsen’s team showed no fear in game five, and mounted an 8-5 rally from a 7-7 tie to win the game, 15-12, and the match, 3-2. The Tritons connected for nine kills in the final frame with zero errors.

    Sophomore outside hitter Jeff Urton tallied a team-high of 22 kills, followed by Toren and Keyser with 20 and 16 kills, respectively. Jones had 68 assists and for the second time in a row Toren had three aces in the match.

    Waller, UCSD’s team leader in kills coming into the match, played very limited minutes and recorded no kill attempts.

    It is possible than the Tritons’ split will push them back into the American Volleyball Coaches’ Association Top 15, since they dropped out of the poll last week. However, UCSD will have plenty of opportunities to prove its merit as it returns to Southern California to take on MPSF foes No. 1 UCLA, No. 9 UC Irvine and No. 2 Pepperdine on the road on Feb. 13, Feb. 14 and Feb. 17, respectively.

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