Loss in Straight Sets for UCSD Volleyball Against USC

UC San Diego’s men’s volleyball team (3–3) took on the University of Southern California (8–1) on Wednesday, and with each of the teams being ranked in the top fifteen, this marquee match-up assuredly turned some heads. Ultimately, the seventh-ranked Trojans defeated the Tritons, who ranked number 13 in the nation, in straight sets. Although it was a deceivingly competitive match, the Trojans controlled the game with their superior athleticism and dominated most of the statistical categories. Still, after defeating some of the better teams in the country and hanging tough with an obviously talented USC squad, UCSD has a lot to look forward to with this year’s team. 

The first set started neck and neck with each team trading blows. Two consecutive sets by senior setter Blake Crisp set up the Tritons to go up 8–6, with the second of two coming on a second-touch kill by senior outside hitter Kyle McCauley. UCSD and USC then traded runs of three points each, with UCSD’s run including an impressive combined block from McCauley and senior Middle Blocker Logan Clark. USC again responded, this time with three straight again to put the Tritons down one, 18–17. Each team continued to go back and forth in this extremely competitive match until a USC service error tied it at 23. 

With two points left to go, the indispensable first set would soon be decided. Each team was struggling to make headway, but steadfast with stout defense which created some impressive rallies. USC once again prevented UCSD from going on any significant run and went up by one. UCSD was calm in setting up their attack, but off the rebound the dependable star McCauley’s ball was just too wide and awarded USC their first set. 

UCSD started a little more lethargically as USC’s offense started to pick up the pace and went down 7–4. Crisp responded by setting up senior outside hitter Wyatt Harrison and Logan Clark to cut the lead to one, and a quick outside block knotted this one at seven. UCSD took their first lead off of a McCauley kill to put the team up 10–9, and this one seemed to be shaping up similarly to the last set. 

The experienced UCSD team and the uber-talented Trojan squad were evenly balanced, making the match a tough battle for both teams. USC rattled off a five point run to go up 16–11. Putting in freshman setter Gabriel Dyer gave the Tritons a little jolt and put the team back in striking distance after a powerful fourth kill from McCauley, which was just the beginning of his huge night, resulted in a score of 17–14. USC soon regained control and put the Tritons down 23–16 with another big run. The Tritons made it a little interesting forcing a service error and with a McCauley ace. USC again killed the momentum by making McCauley get involved on defense, and a service ace took the Tritons out by a score of 25–18 heading into the potentially deciding set. 

With Dyer in the game, McCauley began to heat up and scored two of the first four Triton kills, the second of which tied the game at four. The two teams traded some small runs as the defenses seemed to adjust to the other team’s offensive strength, with hitting errors becoming frequent as angles were sealed off. Two consecutive USC errors gave the Tritons a 13–12 lead heading into the second half of the set, and the team still seemed to have plenty of fight left in them. 

USC began to put the pressure on the UCSD defense, but the team adjusted and an out of system Triton offense scored a crucial point set up by McCauley to Wyatt Harrison after a timely dig by Dyer. McCauley was on a tear, scoring or assisting on six of the last seven for the Tritons and tying the game at 21. The epic will of the Tritons on the shoulders of their senior leader was being tested by one of the best teams they’d seen all year as the game reached its end. 

The Tritons were pushed to the brink, ceding two straight to go down 24–22. A McCauley kill tied it at 24, but USC took the advantage at 25–24. The teams went back and forth until they were tied at 28, with each team refusing to budge as they returned serve at every junction. After a USC service error, McCauley scored his 15th kill in an epic third set performance to give the Tritons the advantage at 30–29. The match, however, was not destined to continue after UCSD’s herculean efforts were stymied by a 3–0 run by USC after an attack error by McCauley.

UCSD may have lost in straight sets, but the team never gave up and there are certainly markers of sustained success for this team. With a Big West title in the team’s aspirations, gut punches like this will be a great lesson before league play begins. Another tough match is soon to come with UCLA coming to town on Wednesday, Feb. 9 in what will surely be a fun, challenging matchup for both squads.

Image courtesy of Derrick Tuskan / UC San Diego Athletics