LA JOLLA, Calif. - The University of California San Diego dropped the first set and fell behind 10-5 in the fourth, but rallied on both counts for an exciting victory over Concordia University Irvine, 3-1, in non-conference men's volleyball at RIMAC Arena on Saturday night. Set scores were 26-28, 28-26, 25-18 and 25-23.
A second home success in as many nights improves UC San Diego's record now to 5-1 on the year. Concordia suffered its first loss and moves to 2-1. The Eagles are first-year members of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, which the Tritons left after their 25th season in 2017 to join the newly-formed Big West Conference. Concordia was coming off a road upset of No. 7 CSUN of the Big West in four sets on Friday night. UCSD has won the last four meetings, the last three in a row after conceding the first set, and leads the all-time series, 4-2.
UC San Diego is rated No. 2 in the initial edition of Off the Block's second-year Division II coaches' poll, with Concordia receiving votes just outside of the top five.
Tanner Syftestad again led the way, producing his first double-double since his college debut back on Jan. 7, 2015, which also coincidentally was against Concordia, that one in Irvine. The senior opposite and tri-captain finished with match highs of 24 kills and 11 digs, and indeed was flirting with a triple-double, at a team-best seven blocks, all assists. He wound up hitting .294 (24-9-51) on the night after spending much of the contest in the .350 range against a very able Concordia block.
Luke La Mont, also a fourth-year senior and Triton tri-captain, joined him in double-figure kills at 10, hitting .292 (10-3-24) from the outside to go along with a career-high eight digs. Redshirt senior middle blocker Bryan Zhu (San Diego/Rancho Bernardo HS) was a key performer with nine kills at a .571 attack rate (9-1-14), three block assists and an ace, one of just two by the home side in the match.
Wyatt Harrison provided a spark off the bench, collecting seven kills and a season-high seven digs. Fellow true freshman Thomas DeStefano was effective at the libero spot, getting to a season-best eight digs and adding a pair of assists.
Senior setter Milosh Stojcic dished out 49 assists, and got to within six more helpers of joining the 2000 club at UC San Diego, which currently has just five members. The Redondo Beach product also had six digs and four kills to match his career best. Senior middle Alec Flowers collected seven kills and five block assists.
The Tritons were out-blocked by a hefty 16.0-9.0 margin, but hit .274 (61-24-135) to just .171 (52-28-140) by the Eagles.
A 4-0 UCSD run broke a 6-6 tie early in the opening frame, with a service error, two hitting mistakes and a service ace by junior outside hitter Nathan Thalken forcing the contest's first timeout from the visitors. Concordia drew even again at 12-12 on back-to-back Jonathan Predney aces, however, as the Tritons called for time. It was a 5-0 stretch altogether for the Eagles that turned a 12-8 deficit into a slim 13-12 edge.
In rattling off six more points in a row to go from trailing 15-13 to leading 19-15 on Zhu's ace, the Tritons got successive stuff blocks from Flowers and Syftestad, and Flowers and Thalken, and moments later, another one from Flowers and Syftestad. Concordia tied it at 23-23, and after fending off one set point, took the 1-0 lead on its third set point, Taylor Falduti and Chandler Gibb combining on the block of Flowers. It was actually consecutive blocks to end it, after Falduti and Darcy Taig, on a play kept alive through a tough dig by Raymond Barsemian.
A triple block by Barsemian, Predney and Hunter Howell gave the Eagles an early 2-0 edge in the second. UC San Diego registered a triple of its own for 11-10, courtesy of Flowers, Harrison and Syftestad. Three straight points forced Concordia's first timeout, down 14-11, but the Eagles came out of that break with the following five, and the Tritons talked it over. A net ace pushed the deficit to three at 21-18, but UCSD grabbed three in a row to level matters at 22-22, and Concordia used its other timeout. The hosts fought off two set points, and after squandering one, leveled the match through a Syftestad kill and combo block by Syftestad and Zhu.
A great pancake dig by Stojcic led to a Harrison kill off the block and a 2-1 advantage to begin game three. Concordia's second triple block of the night, from Gibb, Howell and Taig, made it 6-6. Zhu dumped a kill later for a 15-13 advantage, and then UCSD finally mustered the first run by either side in the set of more than two points, 6-0 to break things open at 21-14. Flowers, Harrison and Syftestad teamed up for a triple block and 24-16, and Harrison's kill put the Tritons in the ascendancy.
La Mont's back-row kill from Syftestad's set moved UC San Diego within one at 6-5 in the fourth. The match looked to be headed for a decider as Concordia got out to a 10-5 lead on four straight kills to necessitate a timeout by Triton head coach Kevin Ring.
UCSD had other plans, however, and chipped away. La Mont's great one-hand flick of a dig led to an attack error and made it 12-10 in the Eagles' favor. The Tritons ultimately tied the score at 18-18 on another La Mont kill, as Concordia called for time. When Harrison handled the overpass with ease, it was 22-20 and the visitors took their final stoppage. UCSD missed a golden chance to take the next point, and instead, it was suddenly 23-23, but a service error and La Mont's 10th kill ended it.
Predney (15) and Barsemian (14) achieved double-digit kill totals for Concordia and served a pair of aces, with the latter player adding nine digs and seven blocks. Falduti led all players with nine blocks. Gibb had 45 assists and nine digs. Taig hit .500 without an error (11-0-22) with five blocks in a reserve role.
The match featured totals of 46 tie scores, including 12-plus in each of the first three games, and 16 lead changes.
UC San Diego heads to Phoenix, Ariz., in the coming week, to play No. 12 Grand Canyon and Ottawa (AZ) at GCU's Antelope Gymnasium on Friday, Jan. 26, and Saturday, Jan. 27, respectively.
Triton Notes: Tanner Syftestad's 24 kills give him 926 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 51 attacks give him 2305 for his career, eighth all-time ... Syftestad has 42 career matches in double-figure kills, now with 10 of the 20-plus variety, including three in 2018 ... Syftestad's 11 digs were a career high, with the seven total blocks his best this season ... Milosh Stojcic's 49 assists give him 1994 for his four-year career, sixth all-time, as he closes in on becoming the sixth Triton ever to get to 2000 assists ... UCSD is off to its best six-match start since opening 6-0 in 1996 ... They were also 5-1 in 1989 ... The last time the Tritons were even above .500 after six matches was in 2004, when they started 4-2 ... Syftestad has pounded out 108 kills in six matches and 23 sets in his career against Concordia, or 4.70 per set, with three straight 22-plus-kill efforts, all Triton victories ... UCSD surrendered the first set in both of last year's meetings before winning each match ... Luke La Mont's final kill of the night, on match point, was his 10th, marking just his second double-digit effort, the other one with 12 kills at BYU on Jan. 30, 2015.