UC San Diego’s 8th-ranked men’s volleyball team faced their toughest test of the season so far, as they hosted No. 6 Grand Canyon University, on Friday, Jan. 21. But the Tritons (2–1) couldn’t stay undefeated on the season, suffering a close defeat to the GCU Antelopes in four sets, 25–21, 25–19, 24–26, 25–20.
The Tritons entered Friday’s game having won both of their contests the week prior, a 3–1 victory over Harvard in the season opener and a straight-sets defeat of No. 12 Stanford. Meanwhile, the Antelopes came into the game after two 3–1 victories against No. 14 McKendree University and two 0–3 losses to No. 4 Pennsylvania State University.
UCSD started off the scoring, as their star senior, outside hitter Kyle McCauley, drove a kill deftly to the back corner to go up 1–0. Both teams traded small runs early on in the set, but a 7–2 run that started with a missed serve from senior middle blocker Logan Clark, put the Antelopes in the lead, 10–7. Down 13–9, however, Clark got a kill in the middle off the GCU block, McCauley got an ace, and then followed it up with a well-placed strike to the back line to bring the Tritons within one; after a subsequent GCU kill, UCSD rattled off 4 more points to take a 16–14 lead. But the Antelopes got on another 7–1 run late in the set to take a 23–19 lead, and they closed out the set on a spike to the center of the court, 25–21.
GCU kept up their momentum in the second set, scoring the first three points, but two straight Antelope attack errors tied the set up at 5 soon after. The Tritons got a spark midway through the set, down 10–8, as they scored 4 in a row, capped off by a block by senior outside hitter Charlie Siragusa that bounced out of bounds off a GCU player’s head. But the Antelopes responded with 4 consecutive points of their own, and they stayed in the lead for the remainder of the set, taking the 2–0 lead, 25–19.
Grand Canyon again came into the set strong, going up 5–1 on three consecutive attack errors from UCSD, putting the Tritons against the wall in a must-win set. But two GCU errors and a McCauley ace put UCSD back into striking distance, and they would take an 8–7 lead on a towering block by senior middle blocker Shane Benetz and redshirt junior outside hitter Ryan Ka. Both teams would battle back and forth down the stretch in the third set, with neither team taking a lead of even 2 points until a 3–0 run from GCU put them in the lead at 22–20.
But a powerful kill from sophomore middle blocker Nick Rigo followed by a deft poke over the net by Ka, tied the set up at 22. The Antelopes, looking to put the Tritons away, scored a quick kill, and McCauley sent the next point flying past the end line to set up a match point for GCU, giving them two opportunities to end the match and sweep UCSD. The Tritons wouldn’t go away so easily, though, with a kill from senior outside hitter Wyatt Harrison and a block on the next play tying the set up at 24. On the next point, McCauley made a great dig to keep the ball in play, and Harrison scored the point to give UCSD a set point. On the next play, they converted that chance as Benetz made a block on the GCU return to hand the Tritons set four, 26–24.
With their first set in hand, UCSD looked good to open the fourth set, going up 4–1 quickly. But the Antelopes blitzed the Tritons with five consecutive points, including three straight service aces by their Camden Gianni, to make it 6–4. The Antelopes extended their lead to 4, 11–7, soon after on a 3–0 run capped off by a kill from Gianni. Grand Canyon and UCSD traded points down the stretch, but the Tritons couldn’t equalize as they stayed on the back foot. UCSD narrowed the lead to 20–18 on an ace from freshman setter Gabriel Dyer, but they failed to get any closer as Gianni closed out the match for the Antelopes, 25–20.
McCauley led the Tritons with 16 kills in the loss, followed by Harrison with 11, and senior setter Blake Crisp had 37 assists. Overall, the Tritons out-killed the Antelopes 49–45, but they were outhit by GCU, .267 to .184, making eight more errors.
“I thought we had moments, but we just didn’t string enough of those together,” said UCSD Head Coach Kevin Ring. “They were the aggressors in a variety of different areas, from serving to attacking.”
Following the loss to Grand Canyon, UCSD will take a two-game New Jersey road trip to take on the New Jersey Institute of Technology on Friday, Jan. 28, and Princeton University on Saturday, Jan. 29 on ESPN+, before playing the University of Southern California in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 2.
Image courtesy of Derrick Tuskan / UC San Diego Athletics