Tritons Swept at Home in Straight Sets against CSUN

The ninth-ranked UC San Diego men’s volleyball team suffered a disappointing loss to California State University, Northridge in a Big West matchup this past Thursday at home in RIMAC Arena. The Tritons were outplayed in the night by a determined and capable CSUN side, losing 3–0 in straight sets to break the 3-game winning streak they had built over the past few weeks. The home side struggled throughout the match to make an impression, and their disorganization combined with an excellent defensive performance by the visitors prevented them from building much momentum.

The first set began with the Matadors putting down the first point, blocking senior outside hitter Kyle McCauley’s attempted kill. The Tritons responded with another kill, this one struck decisively from the right by senior outside hitter Wyatt Harrison to tie the score. The set remained competitive, with the teams trading points. The difference in scores stayed within 2 points for most of the set, with CSUN grabbing the win with a kill that the home side was unable to receive, the set ending 25–23. 

The tight score suggested UCSD could have gotten a hold of the match with a win in the second set, but it was not to be. Similar to the first set, the Matadors were first to have points on the board after a kill by senior middle blocker Shane Benetz was hit out of bounds. The Tritons equalized after one of CSUN’s kills was similarly hit wide, repeating the back-and-forth scoring pattern of the first set. 

A little over halfway through the set, the visitors widened the gap with a 7–1 scoring streak, broken up only by a handling error on the part of their outside hitter, Kyle Hobus, that granted UCSD a point, putting them in the lead 17–11. UCSD fought to narrow that margin, but were chasing the lead for the rest of the set and unable to get closer than 2 points away from the visitors. The Matadors drove home the win in similar fashion to the first set with a kill from the right-hand side that evaded UCSD’s receiver; the set ended 25–21 to the visitors.

The Tritons needed a set victory to stay in the game, so the beginning of the third set brought added pressure and tension to the court. In the mold of the first two sets, the third saw a tight scoreline for most of the game. McCauley, assisted by senior setter Blake Crisp, brought the teams level at 16–16 with a kill from the left that deflected off the block to land on the other side of the net. However, from that point on, CSUN gained the advantage and kept pushing, ultimately scoring 9 points to UCSD’s 3 to see off the set, and the game, with a 6-point lead, 25–19.

Although the scoring pattern in each set suggested a relatively tight game, the home side was outplayed throughout. There were moments of brightness, but they were few and far between. Facing a scrappy but strong CSUN side, the Tritons looked disorganized, seemingly slightly out-of-sync with each other and unable to crack the dogged Matador defense. UCSD’s .141 hitting percentage on Thursday marked their second-lowest of the season, and they statistically trailed CSUN in all areas, including kills, blocks, and digs. 

On the night, redshirt junior outside hitter Ryan Ka led the Tritons with 8 kills, but his efforts were unable to salvage the game for the hosts. UCSD will be disappointed with this performance, as it is not an accurate representation of their quality throughout the season.

Triton head coach Kevin Ring acknowledged his team’s struggles on the night, commending CSUN’s performance: “They thoroughly outplayed us tonight and just stepped on the gas… and we just didn’t.” 

However, Ring was certain that his team would bounce back in their next meeting with the Matadors.

“We’re fully capable, and for us to beat this team or beat any other team that we’re going to play the remainder of the season, we’re gonna have to bring it. We’re gonna have to have multiple guys playing high level volleyball at the same time. And when we do that, we’re a high level team,” Ring said.

His confidence was well placed, as when the Tritons faced off again with CSUN as visitors to the Matadome the following Saturday evening, they reversed Thursday’s scoreline to beat the hosts by the same margin in straight sets. McCauley and Crisp put up game-highs of 14 kills and 44 assists, respectively, to seal the win in style.

UCSD will hope to build on their Saturday comeback win to see out the rest of their season on a high note. The Tritons now face a pair of Big West games against California State University, Long Beach this coming weekend. The Tritons will first head to the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach on Friday, April 8, before hightailing it back to RIMAC to host on April 9 in their penultimate conference game of the season before the Big West Tournament at the end of the month, where last year they were runners up.

Image courtesy of Derrick Tuskan / UC San Diego Athletics