The UC San Diego men's volleyball team takes its second-to-last road trip for 2014 this week. The Tritons first complete their home-and-home series with seventh-ranked Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) foe UC Santa Barbara on Friday night, March 7, and then head to Los Angeles to take on No. 5 UCLA on Saturday, March 8. UCSD just hosted UCSB in its most recent match this past Saturday night, falling 3-0. First serve for both matches is set for 7 p.m.
Once again this season, all UCSD home matches inside RIMAC Arena feature a live online video stream with public-address audio. The video is free, but a registration and login are required. A majority of road matches also have video. Saturday night's match at UCLA will only have live audio. All contests, home and away, have live stats. Fans can access live coverage from the Schedule/Results page. Follow @UCSDtritons for in-match Twitter updates throughout the season, and @UCSBgauchos and @UCLAMensVB this week.
ABOUT THE GAUCHOS
No. 7 UC Santa Barbara (11-5, 10-5 MPSF) has won six of its last eight, including two straight-set decisions in a row. The Gauchos produced a 3-0 home triumph over UCLA on Wednesday night. Set scores were 25-20, 25-19, 25-20 in UCSB's first sweep of UCLA since 1988. Outside hitters Evan Licht (183), Austin Kingi (158) and Matt Hanley (137) lead the team in kills. Jonah Seif dishes out 10.31 assists per set. The sophomore setter is also second behind Licht (21) in aces (18) and second in digs (116). Vaun Lennon, who played the last three seasons at UCSD, appears as a senior outside hitter on the 2014 UCSB roster, but is redshirting the year. Rick McLaughlin is in his sixth season as the Gaucho head coach.
UCSB leads the all-time series, 31-8, and has won the first two meetings in 2014. The Gauchos blanked UCSD in the third-place match at their own Asics Invitational to begin the season back on Jan. 4, and again swept the Tritons 3-0 in La Jolla just last Saturday. The 2013 season saw a split as UCSB won 3-1 at home, with UCSD cruising in straight sets in La Jolla over the then-15th-ranked Gauchos in just 71 minutes. UCSB was swept in its two meetings with the Tritons in 2012, both contests coming during UCSD's five-match MPSF win streak late in the year. The Gauchos dropped a 3-1 decision at home before falling at RIMAC on March 31 by the score of 3-0. The Tritons have knocked off the Gauchos in seven of their last 15 meetings, with a pair of season sweeps in 2009 and 2012.
ABOUT THE BRUINS
No. 5 UCLA (13-6, 10-5 MPSF) has lost three straight, all on the road, since a three-match win streak, including Wednesday's 3-0 defeat at UCSB. They dropped a pair of matches at Hawai'i last weekend, 3-1 and 3-2. The Bruins are 5-1 at home in 2014. Robart Page (4.10 kills/set) and Gonzalo Quiroga (3.74 kills/set) are UCLA's top two offensive weapons. Quiroga has served a league-best 35 aces, and also leads the squad with 127 digs. Senior middle Spencer Rowe, the older brother of Sophie Rowe, a standout junior-to-be on the UCSD women's volleyball team, leads the Bruins at 1.00 blocks per set. John Speraw, the current head coach of the U.S. men's national team, is in his second season in charge at his alma mater after 10 at UC Irvine, where he guided the Anteaters to three national championships over a six-year span, including the 2012 crown.
UCLA leads the all-time series, 54-6, though UCSD is 6-10 against the Bruins over the last 16 meetings since 2008. UCLA won 3-0 as the top-ranked team at the time in this season's earlier meeting in La Jolla back on Jan. 30. The Bruins came out on top in all three match-ups a year ago, snapping a streak of five consecutive seasons with at least one Triton victory. In 2013, the Bruins defeated the Tritons 3-2 at the Asics Invitational in Santa Barbara on Jan. 4, 3-0 at Pauley Pavilion on Feb. 2, and 3-0 again in La Jolla on March 29. UCSD last won 3-1 inside RIMAC Arena on March 30, 2012.
THREE DOUBLE-DOUBLES FOR BRUNSTING
Senior Mike Brunsting (Poway/Francis Parker School) is the only current UCSD player with a double-double, with three now for his career. Most recently, he put down a career-high 18 kills to go along with 10 digs in UCSD's 3-2 triumph at home over Grand Canyon on Feb. 28. Previous double-double cames on Jan. 14, 2012 vs. NJIT (55 assists and 12 digs) in Phoenix, Ariz., and Feb. 8, 2013 at Pacific (46 assists and 15 digs). Brunsting began the season as the Tritons' starting setter before being moved to opposite hitter.
TANNER HOWARD: TEAM MANAGER TO STARTING LIBERO
Redshirt freshman Tanner Howard handled a match-high 16 digs in last Friday night's five-set victory at home over GCU. Howard made his first appearance in a Triton uniform at libero. With multiple liberos out of action, the native of Pismo Beach found himself on the roster officially on Feb. 27, and on the court when the first serve went up the following night. Howard was the team manager as a true freshman in 2013, and was serving in that capacity again thus far this season before fate called his number, and he took full advantage. In addition to his 16 digs, he put together a solid passing game with zero reception errors among 27 opportunities, and added three assists. The 16 digs by Howard signified the most by a Triton in 2014. He added a team-high six digs on Saturday night vs. UCSB.
Brunsting is No. 8 on the all-time Triton list with 1,588 career assists ... A program-high seven Tritons earned MPSF All-Academic distinction in 2013, including returners Brunsting, now a two-time selection, junior Garrett Dempsey and senior Fred Stahl ... Through matches played on March 1, Dempsey ranks 10th in the MPSF in assists (8.76/set) ... UCSD played only twice at home over its first 11 matches ... The Tritons are home for 11 of their last 16 contests. ... UCSD was picked to finish 12th in the 2014 MPSF race in the conference's preseason coaches' poll, with reigning MPSF champion BYU and 2013 league runner-up Long Beach State joint favorites.
Brunsting has a team-best five performances this year in double-digit kills. Since his move from starting setter to opposite hitter, he has provided a career-high 18 kills vs. GCU (2/28), and 17 vs. Pepperdine (2/15) after going for 12 vs. USC (2/14). Brunsting had a team-high 12 kills at Cal State Northridge (2/19) and 11 vs. UCLA (1/30). Senior outside hitter Nick Iorfino had a season-best 14 kills at Pacific (2/8), 12 at California Baptist (1/16), a match-high 12 more at Hawai'i (1/26) and 11 vs. UCLA (1/30). Senior opposite Johl Awerkamp has two, with a season-high 18 kills at CBU. Iorfino and Awerkamp have 18 and 14 such matches, respectively, for their Triton careers. The only other double-digit efforts in kills so far in 2014 have come from redshirt junior Scot Metzger with a career-high 17 at Pacific, redshirt freshman middle blocker Mathew Schnitzer with 13 vs. CBU, and redshirt sophomore outside hitters Eric Barber (career-best 10 at CSUN and vs. GCU) and Kirill Rudenko (12 vs. GCU). Brunsting (11 at UOP, 2/8; 10 vs. GCU, 2/28) and liberos Howard (16 vs. GCU, 2/28), Elliott Shaw (10 vs. PEP, 2/15) and Griffin Galvin (10 at CSUN, 2/19) have each reached the double-figure mark in digs.
LAST TIME OUT
UCSD made its way into the win column at home against non-conference opponent Grand Canyon last Friday night. Set scores in the five-set thriller were 30-28, 17-25, 25-20, 16-25, 15-6. Three Tritons made it into double-figure kills in Brunsting (18), Rudenko (12) and Barber (10), all eclipsing or matching their career highs. Brunsting completed his double-double with 10 digs, while Howard came up with a match-high 16 digs in his college debut at libero. UCSD then dropped a 3-0 decision to then-sixth-ranked UC Santa Barbara on Saturday night.
REPEAT BEST-EVER SHOWING AT ASICS INVITE
For the second straight year and fourth time in the last five, UCSD opened its season at the annual UC Santa Barbara Asics Invitational. With a format change and 10 teams present for the 50th installment, the Tritons came away with a second successive best-ever fourth-place effort. UCSD went 2-2 in best-of-three-set pool-play exhibitions on Jan. 3, with those contests not counting against overall records. The Tritons were the only squad to take a set that day off of eventual tourney champion Long Beach State. On tiebreakers, UCSD placed second in Pool B and matched up with eighth-ranked host UCSB in the third-place match on Jan. 4, losing 3-0. Awerkamp was named to the All-Tournament Team. Eight Tritons made their college debuts.
Team tri-captains for the 2014 season were designated as Awerkamp, Brunsting and Metzger. All three veteran Tritons are first-time captains.
UCSD returns 10 players, including two redshirt freshmen and one injury redshirt (Metzger), from the 2013 campaign. Among the contingent back are Brunsting and Dempsey at the setter position. Awerkamp and Iorfino are two of UCSD's top attackers. Stahl was 12th in the league at 1.04 blocks per set as a junior middle in 2013.
The 2014 roster includes 11 new players to the program, including nine freshmen. Six members of that group have earned their collegiate debuts. Most recently, Howard appeared vs. GCU (2/28) and Shayne Beamer vs. UCLA (1/30). Jackson Wopat, like Beamer a freshman middle blocker, is the younger brother of Carly Wopat, who completed her senior season at Stanford in December as a two-time AVCA first-team All-American. Wopat made his first career appearance in his hometown at UC Santa Barbara (Dos Pueblos HS) on Jan. 4. In addition to Poway product Brunsting, one other San Diego native is freshman middle Bryan Zhu, a graduate of Rancho Bernardo High School.
HEAD COACH KEVIN RING
Kevin Ring is in his ninth season in charge at his alma mater. The 2009 MPSF Coach of the Year, he has a 67-180 overall record at the helm. Before being elevated to the head-coaching position on June 15, 2005, Ring spent the previous nine years as an assistant for the UCSD men's squad. He got his start at UCSD as the men's volleyball team manager from 1989-91 before playing for the Tritons for three seasons. Ring was the full-time manager for the USA men's national team from 1991-93 and continued on as a technical advisor through 1996. He accompanied Team USA to the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona and the 1996 Games in Atlanta. The 1992 squad left Spain with a bronze medal. To this day, Ring maintains strong ties to USA Volleyball, as he has been aiding women's national team head coach Karch Kiraly and his staff in preparing Team USA for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
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After this road weekend, UCSD concludes the 2014 campaign with seven of its last eight at home inside RIMAC Arena. The Tritons host California Baptist on Thursday, March 13, at 7 p.m., and take one final road trip to Provo, Utah, to play BYU before breaking for winter quarter final exams.