Men’s volleyball takes No. 1 UCLA to five games in near upset

So far this year, the UCSD men’s volleyball team has been pummeled by some of the nation’s best teams. This past week, however, the Tritons held their own against the best team in the country, the UCLA Bruins, but ultimately lost, 30-26, 23-30, 37-35, 20-30, 16-18, in their home closer.

Andrew Mo

In addition to losing six senior players with the season’s completion, the Tritons will lose head coach Ron Larsen, who announced his resignation April 14. Larsen, who has coached at UCSD since 2000, is leaving to take an assistant coach position for the USA Men’s Volleyball Olympic Team.

In his first year coaching the Tritons, Larsen led the team to the national championship. After that, the Tritons moved up to Division II, where they have been less successful. However, the Division II era has included wins over top volleyball squads including Penn State, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, USC and Cal Baptist.

Larsen brought experience to the table as a coach. He has held the whistle at the University of Rutgers-Newark, UC Berkeley, St. Mary’s College, UC Davis and for the 1996 USA Boys’ Youth National Team.

The search to replace Larsen has already begun, but his shoes will be hard to fill. The Tritons will come back next year with a new coach and new leaders to improve on the team’s 2005 record.

On April 15, the Bruins came to RIMAC Arena with a 25-4 record overall and an 18-4 record in league play. The Tritons (2-24 overall, 1-21 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) hosted the game and Senior Night for the players, who put in a very strong effort against an excellent opponent.

Game one remained close until late, when the Tritons took advantage of a couple of Bruin errors to take the lead, 28-26. Crucial blocking preserved the Tritons’ lead as they held on to win the game, 30-26.

With a 1-0 lead against the No. 1 team, the Tritons opened game two with confidence. They managed to stay close with UCLA, and the score was tied at 17 late in the game. The Bruins took a slim 23-21 lead before going on a 7-2 run to close out the game. With a 30-23 Bruin win in game two, it was all tied up with a critical game three ahead.

With the momentum up for grabs in game three, UCSD rode the home crowd and the effort of its senior players to a 27-22 lead. The momentum could not hold, however, as the Bruins clawed their way back to a 28-28 tie. The score went back and forth and was still tied at 35-35 before senior middle blocker Adam Rusch stepped up. Rusch, who had 14 kills for the night, tagged UCLA with two straight kills to win game three, 37-35.

The crowd started to come to life as the teams took to the court for game four. However, UCLA silenced doubters with a solid 30-20 win in game four, tying the match up once again at 2-2.

Game five showcased both teams’ abilities to step up their performances with the match on the line. Unfortunately for the Tritons, UCLA stepped up the level of their play and UCSD eventually lost game five, 18-16. It started with an 8-7 UCLA lead, but the Tritons managed to tie it at 10 apiece. The Bruins then scored three unanswered points and were two points away from victory with a 13-10 lead when the Tritons went on the offensive agiain and managed to tie it up at 13-13. The score went back and forth, forcing extra play, until UCLA’s Jonathan Acosta ended the game, the match and the Tritons’ season with a solo block.

In a season where the team won only two games, an effort like this one against UCLA was an accomplishment in itself.

Brendan Bowe, Luke Honnette, Adam Toren, Dickens Tai, Nate Jones and Rusch all played their last games at UCSD. Bowe led the Tritons in kills with 20, and Honnette added 15 of his own.

Honnette led the Tritons with 17 kills on April 13 when the Tritons faced the No. 12 UC Irvine Anteaters. The team did not fare as well against the Anteaters, falling in straight sets, 30-25, 30-27, 30-21.

Game one began with back-and-forth points until UC Irvine took the first big lead of the night with a 14-10 advantage. The Tritons came as close as 23-22, but never tied it up or took the lead, and the Anteaters cruised to a 30-25 game-one victory.

The Tritons gained a 13-9 lead early in game two, but allowed UC Irvine to tie it, 14-14. It was still tied, but UC Irvine went on a 2-0 run to take the lead. UCSD got within one, 22-21, but never recovered and lost game two, 30-27.

Down 2-0, and on the brink of destruction, the Tritons did not put up much of a fight in the deciding game. They kept it close at 6-5, but UC Irvine’s 14-6 run nailed the coffin shut. The run gave the Anteaters a 20-11 lead, and they held on to win the game, 30-21, and the match, 3-0.

Losing their final two matches at home was not ideal for the Tritons, but Senior Night provided a great game and a fitting end to the collegiate careers of six athletes.