Slow Start at Home Dooms Tritons Against Stanford, Pacific U.

    The UCSD men’s volleyball team has had a habit of starting matches off slowly this season, so it was only fitting that it dropped the first two games of its match against Stanford University on Feb. 3 at RIMAC Arena. But the Tritons refused to go quietly and took the next two games, sending the match to a fifth and final game before the Cardinal could wrap up its first victory of the season. Stanford eventually won the back-and-forth match in five games, 30-26, 30-27, 19-30, 26-30, 15-11.

    Hydie Cheung/Guardian
    Freshman middle blocker Frank Fritsch (left) and junior middle blocker Stephen Shaw team up for a block attempt against Princeton University on Jan. 31, the only game that the Tritons won this week.

    The first game was a seesaw affair that saw multiple ties and lead changes. Near the end of the game, the teams were tied up 26-all when the Cardinal went on an impressive 4-0 run to steal the first stanza.

    “”You have to be really focused when the game is tight at the end,”” head coach Kevin Ring said. “”We have to have guys who want the ball to be set to them or want to take the big serve when the pressure is on.””

    The second game was more of the same as the Tritons were forced to play from behind. The team’s attack faltered during some key points due to errors and poor passing, allowing the Cardinal to capitalize on their mistakes. The Tritons fought until the end, but dropped the second game 30-27.

    It seemed like the Tritons were going to be overcome by the surprisingly potent Stanford attack, but they came out firing in the third game after some inspiring words from one of their team captains.

    “”[Sophomore libero] Eric Leserman stood up and urged the team to play with more energy and stay focused,”” Ring said. “”Hearing that from a team captain really got the entire team fired up.””

    Whatever Leserman said, it worked, and UCSD proceeded to blitz the competition, jumping out to a 7-1 lead before finally finishing the game off by a convincing 30-19 margin.

    The Cardinal was able to rebound in game four and forced the Tritons to sweat it out before they could secure a 30-26 win and force the match into a final game to 15. The Tritons did a much better job passing and serving in the third and fourth games, and were able to finish both games out with strong runs at the end.

    As expected, the final game of the match was hotly contested and UCSD started out strong, winning a lengthy rally to secure the first point of the frame. Unfortunately, the furious Triton comeback fell short, and a Stanford squad that has been unable to win a game was able to get its first taste of victory, winning 15-11.

    UCSD was again led by its fantastic freshmen trio of outside hitter Jason Spangler, left-side/outside hitter Will Ehrman and middle blocker Frank Fritsch who had 22, 17 and 16 kills, respectively. Team captain and senior setter Brooks Dierdorff tallied an impressive 66 assists in the match, while Leserman led the team on defense, finishing with 20 digs.

    On Feb. 2, the Tritons looked to slay one of the giants of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation as they took on No. 14 Pacific University at home. The Tritons proved to be tough competition, but fell to the Tigers in four games 27-30, 30-24, 20-30, 28-30. Ring credited the Tigers with a solid serving game that challenged his team throughout the match.

    “”They had a few guys who were able to go back there and earn their team a few points each time they served,”” Ring said. “”If you take those strong serves out of the equation, I thought we played a pretty even match.””

    The Tritons’ lone win of the week came against Princeton University on Jan. 31. UCSD again came out extremely sluggish and dropped the first game of the match 28-30. The initial game was back-and-forth throughout and was tied up at 28 apiece before the Tigers won the next two points to take early control of the match.

    In game two, the Tritons came out with a shot of energy and were able to dominate the Tigers, winning the game 30-21. Ehrman and Spangler provided the team with its offensive attack and Fritsch and fellow freshman middle blocker Adrian Guthals dominated up front, providing a solid block.

    Game three was more of the same as the Tritons again jumped out to an early lead before they could secure the game by a score of 30-25. UCSD was able to fight off several Princeton runs during the game and closed the match out well – something that it has struggled to do thus far this season.

    The fourth and final game was close and featured several ties and lead changes. The Tigers fought to the bitter end and were able to tie the match up at 29 points apiece. However, the Tritons scored two straight points to take the game and the match 31-29. This was the seventh straight match in which the Tritons have topped the Tigers since the 1999 season.

    Spangler, who led the team with 19 kills, blamed the slow start on an early lack of focus, but was happy with the way his team responded.

    “”We had a lazy warm up and were way too relaxed to start the game,”” Spangler said. “”But in the second game we showed that we could beat them and just found a way to win.””

    Dierdorff credited his young hitters with a solid performance.

    “”The hitters did a really nice job with some less-than-perfect sets tonight,”” Dierdorff said. “”We need to step up our passing and defense if we want to get better over time this year.””

    The Tritons’ record now stands at 3-6 overall and 1-6 in MPSF play. The team will next travel east to play at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., on Feb. 9 and Feb. 10.

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