LA JOLLA, Calif. - The UC San Diego men’s volleyball team bounced back nicely from a sluggish first set to provide a game effort, only to be edged in five by Cal State Northridge, 3-2, in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) action Saturday night at RIMAC Arena. Scores were 25-14, 19-25, 22-25, 26-24, 15-12.
UCSD (2-21, 1-20 MPSF) in fact took a 2-1 lead in sets, but a run of three straight service aces by the visiting Matadors midway through the fourth stanza shifted the momentum back the opposite direction.
Cal State Northridge (8-15, 7-13 MPSF) thus swept the season series with UCSD for the second year in a row, having already won in three sets in Northridge on Feb. 19. The Matadors have come out on top in four consecutive meetings overall.
Nick Iorfino returned to the court for the first time in over a month, since Feb. 21 at Long Beach State, and shared the match high with 18 kills for UCSD. He added two assists, one ace, six digs and three block assists. Fellow senior Mike Brunsting (Poway/Francis Parker School) moved from outside hitter to setter early on, and wound up with 39 assists, three kills, one ace, five digs and a block.
The teams began the deciding game by trading service errors. Two straight points by the Matadors on a Damani Lenore kill and a double contact gave them a 4-2 edge and forced a timeout. Later, a CSUN service error and back-to-back hitting mistakes pushed UCSD ahead, 8-7, at the side change.
Northridge ultimately won it at the net, with a pair of key solo blocks the rest of the way, first from Lenore at 11-9 and then by Bradley Sakaida for 12-10. The latter solo stuff was followed immediately by a combination block by Lenore and Greg Faulkner. The 13-10 deficit at that point proved too big to overcome for UCSD.
Faulkner was nearly impossible to stop all night, as he finished with 18 kills on .552 (18-2-29) hitting and also had two assists, five digs and a match-high seven blocks.
CSUN held a 16.0-7.5 advantage in total team blocks.
The Matadors were in full control of the opening frame, scoring the first four points, three on Triton hitting errors, and going up 8-2 before the first break in the action. A solo block by Jakub Ciesla pushed the cushion to 16-8 at UCSD’s second timeout. Sam Holt produced six of his 16 kills in the set, with CSUN hitting .500 (13-2-22) to a dreary -.278 (4-9-18) by the home side.
The Tritons would rebound to attack at rates of .414 (16-4-29) in the second and an even-better .429 (12-3-21) in the third.
After surrendering the first two points in the second, UCSD drew level for the first time in the contest at 2-2 on a Fred Stahl kill and an awry Matador attack. The Tritons’ first lead of the night came at 5-4 following kills by Johl Awerkamp and Scot Metzger. Two more bad CSUN attacks extended the run to four points and drew the visitors’ first timeout, down 7-4. UCSD led for the remainder, and Iorfino evened the match at one game apiece with a kill on set point.
The first service ace by either squad on the night came from Brunsting to open the third set, with a thunderous Iorfino kill off an opponent’s chest making it 2-0 early in favor of UCSD. A triple block, the second of the match for the Tritons, from Awerkamp, Iorfino and Stahl, gave the Tritons a 19-15 lead. Despite a 3-0 Matador run later to close to within two at 22-20, two critical service errors ultimately led toward another Iorfino kill on set point. The home side led from start to finish.
The fourth frame is where the Tritons let things slip a bit. They scored the first three points on a pair of Awerkamp kills around a Holt attack error. Another triple block by Awerkamp, Metzger and Stahl made it 5-3. A 4-0 run consisting of an Awerkamp kill and three straight Awerkamp aces forced a CSUN timeout at 9-4. UCSD was still ahead by six at 12-6 following a Metzger kill and Lenore hitting error, but an ensuing kill by Lenore and three successive aces by Vaughn Wellenreiter triggered a Triton timeout at 12-10.
That run ended with an Iorfino kill, but CSUN rolled out another one with two Faulkner kills, a triple block by Faulkner, Lenore and Sakaida to cap a lengthy rally, and a setting error. A service error by setter Travis Magorien tied the score, before kills by Faulkner and Kyle Stevenson and a Sakaida ace put the Matadors up 17-14.
UCSD did still manage a 24-24 tie on a combo block by Awerkamp and Stahl on Stevenson, but a bad attack and Wellenreiter solo stuff won the set for Northridge.
The fifth set was arguably the tightest of the night, featuring five tie scores and three lead changes.
Awerkamp joined Iorfino in double figures with 11, while Metzger added eight, both off the bench. Awerkamp’s three aces matched his career high. He also had four digs and three blocks. Stahl equaled his season best with a team-high five total blocks.
Wellenreiter was a third Matador in double digits behind Faulkner and Holt, with 10 kills to go along with his three aces and five blocks. Magorien collected 51 assists, five digs and a kill. Stevenson and libero Charlie Condron had seven digs apiece.
UCSD continues a season-ending six-match homestand next weekend, first hosting two-time defending national champion UC Irvine on Friday night, April 4, at 7 p.m. inside RIMAC Arena.