Men’s Volleyball Splits Series with Elite Hawaii Team


The UC San Diego  men’s volleyball team (8–7, 1–2 Big West) faced off twice in one week against the third-ranked team in Division I, the University of Hawaii (14–3, 1–1 Big West). Hawaii was extremely hot coming into the matchup, winning ten straight, but the UCSD Tritons were inspired in the first matchup and won in thrilling fashion in 5 sets. In the Friday rematch, Hawaii was able to take control with sound victories in each set, culminating in efficient revenge in straight sets. 

A hard-fought series found each team taking one match, with both of these teams looking like potential Big West contenders, and another potentially exciting matchup could be in store for these two in the Big West tournament. After the Tritons were able to take down an undefeated No. 1 Hawaii last year in the Big West tournament, UCSD would likely have a certain level of confidence that was apparent in the first matchup.

UCSD started off impressively, coming out as the aggressor against one of the most imposing teams in the nation. UCSD dominated the net in the first set, but did have difficulty with multiple serves falling out for the Tritons that helped keep Hawaii competitive. One of the influential moments in this set came from a dump from senior setter Blake Crisp, which completely handed the momentum to UCSD and led to a 25–22 victory. Set two started out very competitively after Hawaii started with a quick 3–0 lead. A kill from freshman outside hitter Matthew Lim from the right tied it at 8, and soon after senior outside hitter Kyle McCauley killed two consecutively to cut the deficit to one, at 12–11. An extremely close set ended with a Hawaii error, giving the Tritons a precious second set.

With victory in sight, the Tritons did not let up. The third set started eerily similar to the second, with fixable mistakes like serving errors but stout play up front. McCauley’s kill tied the game at 15, and the Tritons seemed to be in position to steal a match from a talented Hawaii team. Senior middle blocker Shane Benetz dominated the interior with a huge slam to give the Tritons a 19–18 lead. He continued his onslaught with a firm block to save the set after a furious Hawaii comeback, and the set was tied at 24. The Tritons again tied it at 25, but Hawaii survived and moved into set 4. McCauley attempted to take over and helped put UCSD up 8–7 with a kill. Later, an out-of-system kill from McCauley on the second touch cut the deficit to three at 18–15. The Tritons never got much momentum, though, and the team lost the set 25–18.

In the deciding set, UCSD finally went on an elusive big run, and put Hawaii on their heels as Lim’s monster block electrified the crowd and put the team up 12–8. McCauley’s back row kill set the Tritons up for match point at 14–9, and the team ended up with the win by a score of 15–9 behind a great contingent of fan support.

In the second match, UCSD was able to start fast, taking a 3–1 lead early in the first set. Soon though, Hawaii took control and the only Triton points were coming from Hawaii errors. A much needed 4–0 run gave the Tritons a 17–16 lead, and the tide seemed to be turning after Crisp’s service ace. Hawaii quickly regrouped though, and took the set by a score of 25–22. In the second set, the two teams seemed evenly matched and started with great energy, much more sound now that the early jitters were gone. 

After Hawaii took a slight advantage, outside hitter Ryan Ka killed a set from Crisp to cut the lead down to two, at 9–7. Hawaii kept applying pressure on the Tritons, with punishing serves keeping UCSD off balance on offense. McCauley once again tried to come through with an impressive service ace that put the score at 21–18, but Hawaii once again took care of business and took set two, which was scored 25–20.

In a potentially deciding set, the Tritons did not begin with the same energy as they did in the prior sets. Hawaii was the more inspired team and they jumped out to a 11–5 lead. To UCSD’s credit, the team rallied and did a great job chipping away at the lead with their tactical subs. Mostly propelled by those substitutes, the Tritons took a 4–0 run to make the game competitive again at 18–14. UCSD did eventually regain the effort, but it was a little too late. The Tritons lost off of a McCauley service error by a convincing margin of 25–18.

Losing the second of two was not the ideal path for the Tritons, but there was certainly a lot of growth for the team in facing such a great opponent. Coach Kevin Ring praised the leadership of his seniors, Blake Crisp and Kyle McCauley, saying of them “You see the composure… that goes a long way.” Crisp and McCauley, the senior leaders of this team, will look to lead UCSD to a win in their next matchup, which will take place at Concordia University Irvine, on Wednesday, Mar. 9.

Image courtesy of Derrick Tuskan / UC San Diego Athletics