LA JOLLA, Calif. - University of California San Diego head coach Kevin Ring has unveiled his 27-match 2018 schedule as the program embarks on a new era with the fast-approaching inaugural season of Big West Conference Men's Volleyball.
After 25 years in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), UC San Diego will begin play in January as an associate member of the Big West, which announced in May of 2016 that men's volleyball had been added as a sponsored sport for 2018. Full Big West institutions CSUN, Hawai'i, Long Beach State, UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara have likewise departed the MPSF to make up the six-team league, enabling the tournament champion to earn an automatic berth into the NCAA Championship.
UC San Diego will begin the 2018 campaign in Westwood as UCLA hosts the four-team, two-day Wooden Classic Tournament in the John Wooden Center. The Tritons will take on McKendree on Friday, Jan. 5, and King on Saturday, Jan. 6, both at 5 p.m.
UCSD's home opener inside RIMAC Arena will be against NCAA Division III side and fellow University of California program UC Merced, at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 11. The Tritons then entertain the UCLA Bruins in La Jolla on Tuesday, Jan. 16, at 7 p.m.
The lengthy non-conference slate will take the Tritons to Phoenix, Ariz., for a pair of contests in late January, and to the Midwest in mid-February to meet McKendree again on its home floor in Lebanon, Ill., and Division II foe Lindenwood in St. Charles, Mo. That portion of the schedule will also see the likes of Princeton (Jan. 31) and former MPSF foes Stanford (Feb. 3) and BYU (Feb. 8) pay visits to RIMAC Arena.
UCSD's historic first Big West matchup is set for a 7 p.m. start on Friday, Feb. 23, at UC Santa Barbara. The Tritons will turn right around and welcome the Gauchos into RIMAC for their Big West home opener on Friday, March 2, also at 7 p.m.
After playing host to Ball State and USC and taking a brief trip to Northern California for a return engagement with the Stanford Cardinal, UC San Diego concludes the regular season with eight straight league dates to round out the Big West ledger. Like their home-and-home series with UCSB, the Tritons will see their remaining conference opponents consecutively, with those four in fact on back-to-back nights. Both meetings with Hawai'i are in Honolulu, Hawaii, this season, inside the Stan Sheriff Center on Friday and Saturday, March 30-31.
For the first time since it won a Division III national championship in 2000, UC San Diego is assured of postseason men's volleyball in 2018, as all six Big West squads will converge on the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach for the 2018 Big West Tournament, April 19-21. The top two seeds will receive a bye into the semifinals, with the Nos. 3-6 seeds squaring off on the first night on Thursday, April 19.
Q&A with UC San Diego Head Coach Kevin Ring
Q: Having to fill as many as 17 non-conference dates instead of just nine, what were you trying to accomplish with your non-conference schedule heading toward the Big West season?
RING: As a member of the MPSF we had 22, or in the 2017 season, 18, conference matches scheduled for us. Heading into the Big West dropped the number of conference matches down to just 10, so that left quite a few matches to arrange to fill out our schedule. As a program we have enjoyed the competition that we've faced in previous years in the MPSF, so it was important to play as many of those teams as possible. We've secured home matches with UCLA, USC, Stanford and BYU, plus an away match at Stanford. I was also able to secure matches with teams that we have not played as frequently in years past, such as Grand Canyon, McKendree, Lindenwood, UCSC, UC Merced and Ball State. Our schedule is well-balanced and ultimately gives our team a great competitive challenge.
Q: You'll be facing five familiar foes in the second half of your season, but in a very different setting as the brand-new Big West Conference begins play on Feb. 23. How excited are you about your debut season of Big West Volleyball?
RING: The Big West Conference schedule is set up such that 10 of our final 13 matches will be against Big West competition, which creates three segments of competition: early-season non-conference matches, Big West play, and lastly, the Big West Tournament. Every match we play early in the season will be a match we play to win, but they will also give us something to really work toward for Big West play and the Big West Tournament. We want to be good early on, but we want to be at our best at the end of the season. I believe our non-conference schedule will prepare us well for Big West competition. I've been thoroughly impressed with the Big West Conference office and their commitment to men's volleyball. The conference, and the coaches and players on each and every team, will make for an exciting season.
Q: How do you feel knowing that you will be back in the postseason for the first time since the Division III title match in 2000?
RING: All six Big West men's volleyball teams will compete in the Big West Conference Tournament beginning on Thursday, April 19, hosted by Long Beach State University. Knowing that we'll have an opportunity to compete for the automatic qualifier into NCAA postseason play adds a level of excitement, especially as we head into the latter part of the season.