UC San Diego’s men’s volleyball team played their first match of the 2022 season on Jan. 14, defeating the Harvard University Crimson 3 sets to 1, 16–25, 25–16, 25–20, and 25–23. Star senior outside hitter Kyle McCauley had a match-high 17 kills, and redshirt junior outside hitter Ryan Ka had two straight aces to win the match, as the No. 10 Tritons (1–0) started strong against their unranked Ivy League foe.
The Tritons entered their match against Harvard at RIMAC Arena after having their previous weekend of matches at the UC Santa Barbara Asics Invitational cancelled; the tournament would have pitted the Tritons against teams like No. 12 University of Southern California, No. 2 UCLA, and No. 11 UCSB.
It was a back-and-forth start for the Tritons in their first set of the season, as they took advantage of Harvard errors to go up 5–2 before three straight UCSD errors knotted the match back up at 5. The set remained tight, as senior middle blocker Logan Clark slotted home two consecutive kills off of assists from senior setter Blake Crisp to make it 12–12 midset. But soon after, the Crimson took over the set with a massive 9–1 run, interrupted only by a right-handed kill by Ka out of a UCSD timeout, that put Harvard in a 22–14 lead. The Tritons couldn’t do much to win the set from there, as an attack error from Clark closed out the set in the Crimson’s favor, 25–16.
The second set again started out evenly matched, with the points neatly alternating between sides with the exception of two Harvard service errors, as it was 8–6 Tritons early on. But sparked by a powerful kill by McCauley on the left side of the net that bounced out off of the Crimson block, the Tritons ran up a 7–2 run to go up 15–8, with the final point coming on another McCauley kill after his own off-speed serve. That put UCSD in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the set, and while Harvard closed the lead to 22–16 with 4 consecutive points, the Tritons shut the door with 3 straight points; the Crimson couldn’t contain a McCauley strike, his ninth kill of the match, as it landed for set point, 25–16.
The Tritons took a quick lead on another important run in the third set, as a Ka kill started a 4–0 run that put UCSD up 7–3 in the early going of the set. Later in the set, with the Tritons still maintaining a lead, a disciplined block by Clark, Ka, and senior outside hitter Charlie Siragusa made it 3 points in a row for the home side and extended the lead to 14–9. While both teams battled for momentum to take an all-important 2–1 set lead, the Crimson never got closer than 3 points away, and McCauley came up clutch again with a block to put the set away for UCSD, 25–20.
UCSD was up early once again in the fourth set, starting off the frame with an 8–4 lead. But the Crimson, looking to tie up the match 2-all, knotted the set at 10–10, and again at 14–14. After a Harvard attack error put the Tritons up 15–14, the Crimson scored four straight, including three straight UCSD attack errors landing out of bounds, as they took a 18–15 advantage. Later in the set, the Crimson were still up 3, 22–19, and were on the inside track to tie up the proceedings. But McCauley got way up to direct a ball that fell perfectly inside the Crimson baseline for the kill, and the Crimson hit the antenna at the net’s edge on the next possession for a UCSD point, bringing the Triton deficit to just 22–21.
Coming out of the ensuing timeout, the Crimson made a nice crosscourt kill to go up 23–21 and regain some momentum, and once again had control of the set and their eye on a fifth-set decider. But McCauley cut the lead to 1 with a kill to center court, then Siragusa’s ball on the next point ricocheted off the Harvard defense into the stands, and just like that, the set was tied at 23; UCSD had regained the momentum, forcing the Crimson to take a timeout to regroup. Ka was up to serve on the next play, and his ball was mishandled by Harvard into the net, giving Ka an ace and giving the Tritons a match point. Ka once again dialed in an excellent, pacey serve to the back left of Harvard’s court that was impossible to return, hitting the ground before the Crimson could get under it, for a second straight ace and the match winner, with the set ending 25–23.
McCauley, a 2020 All-American and 2021 All-Big West player who started for the U.S. at the Pan American Cup last year, led the Triton squad with 17 kills, followed by Clark and Ka with 11 apiece. Clark also led the team with 6 blocks, while senior middle blocker Shane Benetz and Ka each had 4; Ka also led UCSD with 11 digs, while the setter Crisp had a nice game with 44 assists. After a negative hitting percentage in the first set, the Tritons outhit the Crimson in each of the next three sets to get the win.
“We lost the first set, we didn’t play our best brand of volleyball. [There were] some jitters, you got to figure some things out when you go out there,” said 17-year head coach Kevin Ring. “I thought we were passing well on the night and had some stretches of great serving, so it was great to get the victory tonight.”
After their opening win and their second match, a 3–0 sweep of No. 12 Stanford University on Jan. 15, Ring’s Tritons next take on Grand Canyon University on Jan. 21, before a New Jersey road trip to take on the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Princeton University on Jan. 28 and 29, respectively.
Image courtesy of Derrick Tuskan / UC San Diego Athletics