Men’s volleyball keeps rolling, sweeps Missouri series

Praveen Nair

UC San Diego’s men’s volleyball team had a successful weekend on the road at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, winning 3 matches in as many days to lift themselves to 6–2 on the season. The streak began with a 3–2 victory Thursday against the Lindenwood Lions, followed by a 3–0 sweep of the Quincy University Hawks on Friday and a 3–2 defeat of the McKendree University Bearcats on Saturday.

Entering Thursday’s match at Lindenwood, the momentum the Tritons had gained from their historic 3–0 takedown of then No. 3 placeholder UCLA on Jan. 17 had been somewhat deflated by a 1–3 loss to Grand Canyon University the next night. The first set against the Lions was a back-and-forth affair, but a kill from junior outside hitter Wyatt Harrison won the set for UCSD, 25–23. The Tritons rushed out to a 10–5 lead in the next set, but the Lions came roaring back with a 13–2 run to go up 18–12 and finished out the set 25–22. The third set was similarly close, but a late 4–0 run from Lindenwood to go up 24–18 helped the Lions take a 2–1 lead. 

With their backs against the wall, the Tritons maintained a sizeable lead for the bulk of the fourth set, eventually taking it 25–16. Another good start from UCSD had the team up 10–5 early in the last set, but the Lions struck back with a 5–1 run to come within 1 score, at 11–10. Both teams alternated points from there on out, allowing junior outside hitter Kyle McCauley to make a game-winning kill. The final score was 25–23, 22–25, 20–25, 25–16, 15–13. The Tritons were led by 20 kills from McCauley, 47 assists from senior setter Connor Walbrecht, and a career-high 6 blocks from sophomore middle blocker Logan Clark.

The next day’s match, against the 1–5 Quincy Hawks, would not be nearly as tense. The Tritons never trailed in the first set, and they were able to fend off a 5–0 run on set point by the Hawks to take the first set 25–22. After trading points early in the second set, the Tritons took control of the match mid-set with an 11–1 run to go up 21–8, and easily finished off the set 25–13 on a kill from redshirt freshman outside hitter Ryan Ka. 

In the third set, the Tritons couldn’t establish the early leads they held in the first and second sets, and after a 6–1 run by the Hawks, UCSD found itself down 8–11. The Tritons wouldn’t regain the lead until an 8–2 run gave them a 24–19 lead, which the Tritons finished off to sweep the Hawks 25–22, 25–13, 25–20. Harrison led the squad with 9 kills, Walbrecht once again led the team with 31 assists, and sophomore middle blocker Shane Benetz notched a career-high 6 blocks to lead the Tritons in the win.

On Saturday against McKendree, the Bearcats opened the match up with leads of 9–3 and 16–10, and although the Tritons made it close late, the Bearcats took the first set. The second set was similarly tight, with both teams reaching a late 22–22 tie, but this time it would be UCSD with a 3–0 run to tie up the match after two Bearcat errors. The Tritons never led in the third period; a late 5–1 run to come within one was too late, as McKendree went up 2–1. 

Facing elimination, the Tritons took the lead early in the fourth set, but five errors allowed the Bearcats to claw back and tie it up at 17. However, the Tritons responded with 8 straight points to extend the match. In the decisive fifth set, both squads battled to a 7–7 tie, but once again with the match on the line, UCSD delivered an 8–1 run finished off by a Harrison kill to win the final set and the match, 22–25, 25–22, 23–25, 25–17, 15–8. Harrison had 27 kills, Walbrecht had 57 assists, and senior libero Ryan Lew had 16 digs — all 3 were career highs.

The Tritons will try and continue their momentum as they return to RIMAC Arena for the first time since the UCLA victory to take on Princeton University on Jan. 28. The Tritons are also seeking to break into the NCAA rankings, as they were the last team left out of the top 15 in the rankings released on Jan. 20.