UC San Diego’s 12th-ranked men’s volleyball team (3–9, 3–5 Big West) failed to take a set from 6th-place California State University, Long Beach (5–3, 5–3 Big West) in a home-and-home series, losing the first contest 25–18, 25–23, 25–21, and the second 25–20, 25–22, 25–15.
The first match was held at RIMAC Arena on April 9, and the UCSD Tritons made it close early. Both teams went back and forth in the early part of the first set, and a kill from Triton junior middle blocker Shane Benetz put UCSD up 9–8. But CSULB were able to wrest back control with a 5-point run, starting with a Triton service error from senior outside hitter Kyle McCauley; CSULB tacked on two kills and two aces to put themselves up 13–9. From there, the Tritons were now playing catchup, and while they twice closed the lead to two, they couldn’t capitalize on those opportunities. A 5–1 run for Long Beach got them to set point, and even though the Tritons fended off a pair of potential set-ending points, it was too little, too late, as the set ended 25–18.
The second set also began as a back-and-forth affair, and three successive Triton points gave UCSD a 13–10 lead midway through the set. They held this lead for a while, but after the Tritons went up 19–16 on a kill from senior opposite hitter Collin Shannon, the Beach went on a 5–1 run to go up 21–20. UCSD did get the lead back, however, and they were two points from winning the set with a 23–22 lead. But Long Beach made another quick run, scoring three straight points capped off by an attack error from McCauley to take the set, 25–23.
In the third set, Long Beach got out to big leads early, and a 5–1 run in their favor put them up 10–5. While the Tritons did narrow the lead to 12–10 on a McCauley kill, that would be as close as they would get; UCSD trailed for the remainder of the set, and while they stayed within striking distance, the run they needed never materialized, giving CSULB the set, 25–21, and the match.
The Tritons struggled with efficiency, with their hitting percentage at .268 to the Beach’s .420. McCauley led the Tritons with 12 kills, followed by redshirt sophomore Ryan Ka with eight, and junior setter Blake Crisp led UCSD with 26 assists.
“I thought we had a lot of good, quality swings. If you look at those things, we were in the match with that aspect of our play. It was the difference of some of the other factors… some of these other factors you don’t even notice them, whether you’re doing them well or not so well. Tonight it made the difference,” said Triton head coach Kevin Ring.
The second match of the series was played a 90-mile drive north in Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. The Beach started out hot on their home court, as a 6–0 run propelled them to a 7–1 lead early. UCSD made up much of that deficit with a 5–1 run of their own that ended with two consecutive Long Beach attack errors, making it 10–8. The Tritons were able to get within one but not tie the match up, and the Beach capitalized with a 5–0 run to bring the score to 19–13. UCSD made an effort late, but Long Beach closed out the set 25–20.
The Tritons kept the beginning of the second set close, and while the Beach amassed an 11–7 lead, a 5–1 run from UCSD tied the set at 12. But unfortunately for the Tritons, Long Beach had another run in them, rattling off five straight to go up 17–12. UCSD would battle back late in the set, however; four straight Triton points, finished off with a Benetz kill, tied the set back up at 22. But once again, UCSD couldn’t use the opportunity to take the lead, as Long Beach finished off the last three points of the set to take it 25–22.
The final set of the match didn’t look much better for the Tritons as the Beach blitzed UCSD with leads of 6–2 and 13–4 early and led by double digits for most of the set. This time, there wouldn’t be a comeback for the Tritons, and Long Beach was able to cruise to a 25–15 victory in the set, capping off their second straight-set victory over UCSD of the weekend.
The Tritons’ hitting woes were even more on display in the second match of the series, as they hit just .070 to the Beach’s .307 — this included a poor second set where UCSD had more errors (11) than kills (8). Benetz led the Tritons with seven kills, while McCauley finished with just five — just the second time this season he has had less than 10 kills. Crisp once again led the Triton squad with 20 assists.
UCSD will finish their regular season off with three straight matchups with UC Santa Barbara on April 14, 15, and 17; the first two will be at RIMAC Arena, and the third will be at UCSB. The following week, the Tritons will compete in the Big West tournament in Honolulu with their first-round match scheduled for April 22.
Photo courtesy of Derrick Tuskan / UC San Diego Athletics