Volleyball’s Success Depends Not On Win Count But Improvement

    How do you measure the success of the UCSD men’s volleyball team?

    Greg Dale/Guardian
    Though its record on paper was a seemingly abysmal 2-27 season, the volleyball team insists that the season was a success and will lead to better play in future years.

    The Tritons’ goal was to make the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs, but they weren’t even close, with an overall record of 2-27 and a 1-21 conference record. A comparison of the season’s statistics to those of their opponents, the Tritons lagged in every category.

    “We had a stretch in the middle of the season where we weren’t playing good volleyball,” head coach Kevin Ring said.

    UCSD got swept 19 times, including 12 consecutive matches after its first win of the season against Princeton University, 3-1. So how can this season not be a failure?

    “Asking our team why we didn’t have very many wins this season is like asking our men’s basketball team why they didn’t beat Gonzaga when they played them earlier in their season,” junior setter Brooks Dierdorff said. “The quality of our league is the best in the country and any win that we get is a huge accomplishment for our team.”

    The Tritons faced the toughest opponents in the nation, night in and night out. Taking on mostly Division-I schools, UCSD struggled to play at a high level but still showed flashes of brilliance. Throughout the season, the team played against the national No. 1 seed four times and 25 of its 29 matches were against ranked opponents.

    “We didn’t accomplish with our win-loss record, but we played some pretty good volleyball near the end of the season,” Ring said. “As part of the coaching staff, you always want to see the players finish strong.”

    The team also lost one of its leaders in sophomore libero Joseph Sexton mid-season, forcing freshman Eric Leserman to step in.

    “[Sexton’s] leadership was missed, because he has the ability to unite the team unlike any other teammate,” said sophomore middle blocker John Mark Wendler.

    Even though things were not going their way, the UCSD players were pushed even harder by the coaches to improve and play volleyball the right way.

    “We stressed that we aren’t going to change what we do, or back off our training and we definitely worked hard to improve every game,” Ring said.

    Even through the tough losses, the players bought into Ring’s work ethic and collectively decided to get better.

    “It’s discouraging [to lose so many matches], but that’s just another reason to work harder,” Wendler said.

    With that mindset, something just clicked during the last six matches of the year. The Tritons looked like another team, consistently playing well together. They weren’t making as many mistakes and they continued to make great plays. UCSD took on No. 8 UCLA and almost won two games. Their visit to the University of Hawaii, Manoa made them a better team.

    “Going against No. 2 Hawaii and really just feeling the energy, playing in front of 3,000-some-odd fans, it was amazing,” senior opposite Chris Sayers said. “It really helped us get back focused and playing well together.”

    With a new excitement for the game, UCSD came back home and took on Stanford University and beat the Cardinal for its first league victory. The Tritons demolished the Cardinal in four games, including a 30-13 win. Sayers led the way with 18 kills, six aces and 13 digs, while senior outside hitters Mike Reuter and Jon Daze contributed 14 and 12 kills, respectively.

    Those three players led the team offensively for most of the season and their play will surely be missed in the upcoming campaign.

    “They were the statistical leaders and will definitely be missed, but it creates an opportunity for new leaders,” Wendler said.

    The middle was strong throughout the season with Wendler, junior middle blocker Garret Smith and sophomore middle blocker Stephen Shaw. The team’s two main leaders, Sexton and Dierdorff, who is 600 assists behind the all-time UCSD record held by Jordan Hove, will both be back.

    “It is exciting to know that I am near the top of the list in the assists, but my motivation does not come from wanting to break records,” Dierdorff said. “I work as hard as I do because I see no alternative.”

    The only questions remain on the position of outside hitter, but Ring expects everyone to step in and get ready to perform.

    “Losing [the seniors] is a big bulk of our offense, but we have so many positions that are solid next year,” Ring said. “Now it’s time for the guys to work hard over the summer and be ready to go in the fall. I have high expectations for the team, and we have a good opportunity next season.”

    Next year, Dierdorff will aim for the UCSD assist record and the Tritons will continue to work hard, building off the little momentum they had at the end of this season to accomplish even more.

    “I would say that our season was a success,” Dierdorff said. “I don’t believe that success depends on the number of wins you have on your record. We did everything that we could every day to be the best possible volleyball team we could be. That is success.”

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    Our Goal