Photo Courtesy of Ellie Wang/UCSD Guardian
Tying a program record set in 1996, UC San Diego’s No. 6 men’s volleyball team swept the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs in straight sets, 25–22, 25–19, 25–10, on Friday, Feb. 28 for their sixth win in a row. With the win, the Tritons improve to 13-3 on the season, entering a challenging stretch with five-straight matches against ranked opponents.
UCSD entered Friday’s match coming off of two consecutive wins against the then No. 5 UC Irvine, its first and second ever Big West conference wins.
“Part of our strength this year is how well we’re practicing — the fans come out and see how we’re doing in a match, but they’re not seeing what we’re doing Monday through Thursday,” head coach Kevin Ring said. “We’re putting in a lot of work, and we’re going to need all that and then some.”
The Tritons got off to a quick 5–1 lead in the first set, capped off by an ace from junior outside hitter Wyatt Harrison. But the Banana Slugs tied it up after two Triton attack errors, both teams going back-and-forth seeking the upper hand. The home team would respond though. After a kill from Harrison, the Banana Slugs made four-straight attack errors on senior setter Connor Walbrecht’s serve, giving UCSD a 14–9 lead.
The Banana Slugs, however, came right back, gaining momentum after making a miraculous recovery from a block, forcing sophomore outside hitter Charlie Siragusa into an attack error. With the set tied 20–20, Siragusa followed a kill with a key block, and the Banana Slugs made two straight attack errors, giving the Tritons a match point that Siragusa converted 3 points later.
In the second set, the Tritons were up early with three quick kills from sophomore middle blocker Shane Benetz, followed by a block from redshirt freshman outside hitter Ryan Ka to put UCSD up 4–1. A few points later, Walbrecht fired up the crowd by absolutely smoking a weak Santa Cruz ball into Banana Slug territory. Soon after, Walbrecht set up Ka for a crosscourt kill from the left side of the net to give the Tritons further momentum going into a timeout. The Tritons kept their lead safe for the remainder of the set, and Ka squeezed the ball through the Santa Cruz block to end the set, 25–19.
UCSD started off the third set with a block from sophomore opposite Berkeley Miesfeld, who followed that up a few points later with a towering spike on an assist from sophomore setter Blake Crisp. With the score 7–4, Harrison smashed a weak floater with his right hand on the first hit back across the net for a score.
The Tritons put the match out of reach with an 11–1 run that had them up 21–8. Ka had an impressive showing during that run; he first made an athletic block high over the net that landed for a score, then scored two-straight points off of the Banana Slugs block attempts, putting the Tritons up 16–8. With the lead 23–10 near the end of the set, the Slugs made an attack error to give the Tritons a match point; then, embarrassingly, Santa Cruz made a rotation error to hand the Tritons the set, and the match. Harrison and Ka led the Tritons in kills, with nine each, and Walbrecht led the squad with 22 assists.
This win ties the UCSD record for longest win streak, last set in a 1996 season-opening six-game stretch while still in Division III. The current streak included victories over ranked squads, Concordia University and UC Irvine, as well as a prestigious University of Southern California team.
“It’s a variety of things. Especially our starting group, we don’t have one guy who we set all the time – so we need to be a team that has a balanced offense, and when we’ve been at our best, we’ve been getting a balanced production out of that,” Ring said of the team’s recent success. “It’s going to get pretty challenging, but we’re up for it.”
The Tritons will finish out their season with a grueling March and April game schedule that includes matches against third-ranked UC Santa Barbara, No. 12 UCLA, No. 10 Pennsylvania State University, top-ranked University of Hawaii, and fourth-ranked California State University, Long Beach.