LA JOLLA, Calif. - The University of California San Diego men's volleyball team had little trouble with the University of California Merced in its 2018 home opener, winning in straight sets Thursday night at RIMAC Arena. Game scores were 25-12, 25-14 and 25-22.
With the result, UC San Diego stayed perfect on the young season, now at 3-0 following a trio of non-conference decisions. The Tritons are off to their best start since the 1996 squad began that year at 6-0. Contesting its season opener, UC Merced of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) is now 0-1.
Playing a slightly-revised lineup, head coach Kevin Ring got nine kills apiece from senior tri-captain Luke La Mont and redshirt junior Luke McDonald. La Mont started as an outside hitter in his season debut after having to sit out the first two matches with a minor injury. He did not commit a single error on his 12 swings for a match-and career-best .750 percentage, and added four block assists, two digs and an assist. McDonald did his damage off the bench, himself hitting a career-best .667 (9-1-12), with four digs, two block assists and an assist over a pair of games played.
Redshirt freshman Vlad Pesic, earning his first collegiate action, was arguably the star, however. He started at a middle blocker spot and finished with six kills on .364 hitting (6-2-11), and more impressively, match highs of two service aces and eight total blocks. Sophomore libero Ryan Lew collected eight digs to lead all players.
Senior opposite Tanner Syftestad, the reigning Big West Conference and Sports Imports/American Volleyball Coaches Association D I-II Player of the Week, had two kills and two blocks in the first set, before retiring to the bench for the duration.
For the Bobcats, Cole Smith put down nine kills, but those came on 31 attacks and thus a .032 hitting efficiency. UCSD held a blocking advantage of 9.5-3.5 as a team.
UC San Diego led from start to finish in the opening set after tallying the first seven points, six on Stojcic's serve, with the final one courtesy of a triple block by La Mont, Pesic and Syftestad on Smith. Eight of La Mont's nine kills came in that game on 10 swings, as the Tritons combined to hit .565 (16-3-23). True freshman Collin Shannon came on late for his college debut, and moments later handled the overpass from libero Tshu Xiong to notch his first career kill and a 24-10 bulge. The Westwood product would wind up with four kills on five attempts without a miscue.
UC Merced took its first lead of the night by procuring the initial point of the second frame, but the Tritons scored the next five to trigger the Bobcats' first timeout, and cruised from there, adding a six-point stretch later to get it to set point at 24-12.
The third set was a different affair. The Bobcats grabbed the first three points, the second via triple block from Smith, Kyle Stephan and Jose Leon Gomez. They led throughout the early going and by as many as five, as late as 18-13 after a Stephan ace. The Tritons got the next five points, however, the final four of them on Pesic's serve, including an ace, to level matters at 18-18. Though UC Merced edged ahead, 19-18, on a Jacob Shelton kill, UCSD was up 20-19 a short time later. Following one final tie score at 20-20, the next three points went to the home side, and the sweep was imminent. Fittingly, La Mont ended the contest with a kill on match point.
UC San Diego continues a season-long four-match homestand this Tuesday night, Jan. 16, welcoming in third-ranked former Mountain Pacific Sports Federation rival and fellow unbeaten, UCLA (4-0), into RIMAC Arena for a 7 p.m. first serve.
Triton Notes: UC San Diego is now 2-0 all-time against UC Merced, the other meeting resulting in another 3-0 home sweep for the Tritons, in 2014 ... Tanner Syftestad's two kills give him 874 for his career, still 10th all-time at UC San Diego, as he vies to become just the sixth Triton men's volleyball player to reach the 1000-kill milestone ... Syftestad's four attacks give him 2194 for his career, eighth all-time ... The Tritons as a team hit .447 (45-11-76) after attacking at a .258 rate in their opener against McKendree and then .342 versus King ... Luke McDonald's previous offensive career bests were four kills and a .077 (4-3-13) attack percentage, both at home against Stanford on April 8, 2017 ... UC San Diego has out-blocked all three of its opponents thus far in 2018 ... The match was played in 70 minutes.