Playing for the first time in almost a year, UC San Diego’s 11th ranked men’s volleyball team hosted the second-ranked University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on Feb. 24 and 25 to open their 2021 season. But the Warriors proved too much for the Tritons to handle, and UCSD dropped both matches in straight sets, 25–20, 25–23, 25–18, and 25–20, 25–19, 25–23.
The Tritons entered last Wednesday’s match having not played in NCAA competition since the March 11, 2020 win against Pennsylvania State University. Hawaii, meanwhile, was fresh off two wins over No. 8 UC Irvine on Feb. 21 and 22.
The first match started out close, with little daylight between either team for the beginning of the first set. After a kill by senior outside hitter Kyle McCauley, who last season was named to the All-America First Team by the American Volleyball Coaches’ Association, UCSD led 8–7. But Hawaii would respond with a 6–1 run, aided by UCSD attacking errors from McCauley and senior outside hitter Wyatt Harrison, and the Warriors went up 13–9. Although the Tritons remained close for the remainder of the set, they could not get closer than 2 points behind, and Hawaii would take the set, 25–20.
The Warriors would come out with an early lead in the second set, but a 4–0 run on a McCauley kill followed by three errors from Hawaii put the Tritons up 7–4. But Hawaii quickly recovered with a kill and two straight aces from their Rado Parapunov to level the score. The proceedings remained close for the rest of the set, as Hawaii held slim leads while both teams went back and forth. The Warriors eked out the slightest of leads as two late kills by Parapunov gave them a pair of match points, and although UCSD junior middle blocker Logan Clark notched a kill to draw within one, Hawaii finished it off on the next point to win the set.
In the third set, Hawaii once again led early, scoring three consecutive kills to go up 7–4. The Tritons answered with 3 points of their own, including two Hawaii attack errors and a McCauley kill, but the Warriors only widened their lead in the middle of the set, going up 18–11. UCSD showed a burst of energy late, with 5 straight points to bring the deficit down to 22–18, but the Warriors would close out the match with the final 3 points, 25–20, 25–23, 25–18.
In the game, the Tritons had just three blocks to the Warriors’ 11, and one ace to the Warriors’ five. McCauley led the team in kills with 10, junior setter Blake Crisp led the Tritons with 18 assists, and junior libero Matt Palma led both teams with 6 digs.
The first set of the second match would again be a tight affair; the score of 10–10 early in the set was the eighth time the teams had been knotted up so far. Hawaii nudged ahead with a 15–12 lead, but UCSD was able to tie things right back up at 15 after an attack error and two bad sets by the Warriors. But Hawaii then scored the next 4 points and UCSD had no response, as the Warriors went up 19–15 and held on for the remainder of the set, ending 25–20.
The story was much the same in the next set: the Tritons were still in it, trailing just 9–8, when the Warriors uncorked a 7–2 run to open the set up in their favor. UCSD made a few efforts to get within striking distance but could get no closer than 4 points. A service error followed by a bad set from the Tritons’ redshirt freshman setter Will Campbell finished off the set, with Hawaii taking it 25–19.
Looking to take at least one set from the Warriors in the two-match series, the Tritons led early in this third set, and some early kills from redshirt sophomore outside hitter Ryan Ka and junior outside hitter Charlie Siragusa had them up midway through the set. UCSD held on to a tenuous lead for the majority of the set. But with the Triton lead at just 19–18, 3 straight points from Hawaii put the Warriors up 21–19. UCSD leveled the match at 23 after a Hawaii attack error, but two straight kills from Hawaii’s Parapunov and Colton Cowell gave the Warriors another sweep, as they won this match, 25–20, 25–19, 25–23.
The box score showed a similar pattern for the Tritons on the second night. UCSD did not hit a single ace, while Hawaii managed 8; on the other end, the Tritons scored only 4 blocks to the Warriors’ 11. Ka and McCauley led UCSD with 12 and 10 kills, respectively, and Crisp had his most assists since the 2019 season, with 31. Ka and Palma also shared the game-high for digs, with 8 each.
The Tritons will try to bounce back from these two sweeps with a pair of games at No. 3 UC Santa Barbara on Mar. 3 and 4, followed by two games against UC Irvine on Mar. 11 and 12, the latter of which will be at RIMAC Arena and on ESPN3.
Photo courtesy of Derrick Tuskan / UC San Diego Athletics