Tritons Suffer Unceremonious Senior Night Loss to No. 6 UCSB

In an exciting senior night matchup, UC San Diego’s men’s volleyball team (13–10, 5–5 Big West) faced off against UC Santa Barbara (18–8, 6–4 Big West), which also marked the Tritons’ final game of this regular season. Coming into the game, UC Santa Barbara ranked sixth, while the Tritons ranked ninth following a huge win against No. 2 California State University, Long Beach. 

With big implications for the upcoming Big West Championship tournament, the Tritons hoped to take a significant victory against UCSB, who had already previously defeated the Tritons this season in 4 sets in Santa Barbara on Feb. 24. Despite a valiant effort by the Tritons to bring home a win on their ceremonial senior night, the Tritons suffered another hard-fought loss, losing the match 3–1, with scores of 25–22, 18–25, 25–22, and 25–14.

The Tritons got off to a great start during the first set, establishing a quick 2–0 lead following two outstanding kills by junior outside hitter Ryan Ka. The Tritons would maintain control of the set, soon leading 7–3, and going up 4 once again at 13–9 during the halfway mark of the set. 

However, the tide slowly started to turn as UCSB began to claw back into the game. Despite the Tritons’ efforts to regroup, UCSB would build on their momentum, going on a 9–1 run. A block from senior middle blocker Shane Benetz would draw UCSD within 2, but UCSB would close out and win the first set 25–21.

Following a tough first-set loss, the Tritons would come out on a mission in the second set, behind the play of star senior outside hitter, Kyle McCauley, whose ace would give the Tritons a quick 3–1 lead, resulting in a UCSB timeout. Following the timeout, the Tritons continued their hot start to the set, gaining a 6–1 lead. While UCSB would pull to within two, down 9–7, the Tritons would not let UCSB back in the set, pushing the lead to 18–11. With UCSB committing multiple errors leading to points, and the Tritons playing tremendous defense led by senior libero, Matt Palma, who would end with a game-high 14 digs, the Tritons would go on to win the second set, 25–17, on an ace by McCauley. 

With each team now having won a set, both squads entered the third set with a high level of intensity and focus, each aiming at taking this crucial third set. While the Tritons forced UCSB to commit two errors to start off the set, UCSB also delivered two kills, starting the set off in a very nip and tuck manner as both teams were tied at 3–3. However, UCSB would break away and go on a key run, scoring 7 of the next 8 points, putting UCSB up 10–4 and leading to a UCSD timeout. Coming out of their timeout, the Tritons would string a couple of points together, including an ace by senior outside hitter Wyatt Harrison and a kill by McCauley following an amazing, back-and-forth rally which would bring the Tritons within 3, 10–7. 

UCSB, however, would take control of the set again, going up 15–11 following a couple of errors by the Tritons that led to easy points for UCSB. The Tritons would not give up by any means, though, as they tied the set up at 17–17, and then again at 20–20. But following a long and significant challenge call by UCSB, which resulted in a reversed call and a 24–22 lead, Santa Barbara would take the set 25–22 on a cross-court kill by their outside hitter Dayne Chalmers. UCSB was now up 2–1 in the match, with a potential game-winning set coming up.

The struggles late in the second set bled into the third, as the Tritons went down 7–3 to begin. Despite UCSD’s attempts at getting back in the game, and a few very impressive and long-lasting rallies, UCSB would take control in this fourth and final set, jumping out to a 17–8 lead, and a Triton service error closed out the final set, 25–13. UCSB outhit UCSD .320 to .036 in the set. The brightest moment of the set for the Tritons would be the substitution of freshman outside hitter Matthew Lim, who received a loud cheer from fans as he made his way into the game for the first time halfway into the set, but nonetheless, the Tritons would lose the match 3–1 to UCSB following the poor fourth set.

The UCSD Guardian caught up with Triton head coach Kevin Ring after the match about his thoughts on his team’s performance following a difficult loss.

“We knew we were going to have to play at a real high level, and I thought we did in spurts tonight, but just not enough. Unfortunately, the fourth set got away from us, but I thought the first three sets could go either way, and we just have to make sure we go out and capitalize on plays and not just wait for our opponents to help us earn some points, and while we have done that really well at times this year, we just did not do that tonight,” Ring said.

Coach Ring would also share a few words about the seniors on the team following their senior night celebration.

“You look at that group of guys and what they have meant to this program and what we have been able to accomplish over the last few years, that’s largely credited to their work and efforts that they have constantly put forth for this team,” Ring said.

After the match, the eight UCSD seniors that were celebrated included Shane Benetz, Logan Clark, Blake Crisp, Wyatt Harrison, Jason Lee, Kyle McCauley, Berkeley Miesfeld, and Matt Palma.

With the loss, the Tritons will head into their upcoming Big West Conference tournament as the 4th seed, preparing to face off against 5th-seeded UC Irvine. The tournament will take place at the Stan Sheriff Center on the campus of the University of Hawaii, from April 21 to 23, with the Tritons’ first match on Thursday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m. PST, leaving the Tritons with just under a week to prepare for this crucial first-round tournament matchup.

Image courtesy of Andrew Fischer / UC San Diego Athletics