Photo by: Ed Chan/
From left, Tanner Syftestad, Bryan Zhu and Wyatt Harrison go up for a block against BYU on Thursday night.

Tritons Take Opening Set but Fall Short of Upset Against No. 7 BYU


LA JOLLA, Calif. - The University of California San Diego staged a legitimate threat by producing a resounding first-set victory against No. 7 Brigham Young University, but dropped a four-set affair in the end in non-conference action at RIMAC Arena on Thursday night. Set scores were 18-25, 25-19, 25-22 and 25-16.

With the result, both teams are now at 7-4 overall on the season. The Tritons have still yet to beat the Cougars, now 0-43 in the all-time series. They did, however, snap a lengthy streak of set defeats by taking the opener, having been swept in each of the previous 10 meetings. UC San Diego had dropped 31 consecutive sets to BYU since winning game four, 25-21, at home on Feb. 11, 2012.

Senior opposite and captain Tanner Syftestad shared the match high with 15 kills, despite coming off the bench for the first time in 2018 and playing sparingly in the early going after missing the previous two days of practice due to illness. The national leader in kills per set appeared solely as a serving substitute late in the opening frame. He returned as a hitter late in the second and notched one kill, before starting games three and four. Syftestad hit .407 (15-4-27) with five digs, three blocks and an assist.

Bryan Zhu (San Diego/Rancho Bernardo HS) hit .571 with eight kills and no errors over his 14 swings, while also sharing the match high with a season-best seven total blocks, and adding a career-best five digs. A third senior, setter Milosh Stojcic, produced his fifth career double-double with 39 assists and 11 digs.

Luke La Mont returned to the starting lineup and collected five kills, a match- and career-high four service aces, five digs and four blocks. Luke McDonald took over for Syftestad to begin the match and provided a big early spark, providing four of his five kills in the initial frame.

The night's first triple block, by La Mont, Stojcic and senior middle blocker Alec Flowers, ended a 4-0 run that broke a 4-4 tie and pushed BYU into its first timeout. La Mont and Zhu teamed up to deny the same player, Cougar freshman star Gabi Garcia Fernandez, for 11-6. At 11-8, UCSD grabbed the next six points to pull away. The block theme continued to the end, as Zhu turned away Felipe de Brito Ferreira by himself on set point. UCSD was out-blocked for the match, however, 17.5-11.0.

Back-to-back La Mont aces tied game two up early at 3-3. A pair of triple stuffs by BYU gave the visitors an 8-7 lead and levelled the score at 10-10, respectively. Garcia Fernandez and Andrew Lincoln were involved in both against La Mont. UCSD rattled off four in a row to move ahead, 17-15, as BYU called its first timeout, but the Cougars came out firing and scored the next five, and 10 of the final 12 in the set.

The Tritons managed the first three points of the third, the mini-run punctuated by a triple block by La Mont, Syftestad and Zhu on Brenden Sander. That was right after a combo block by Syftestad and Zhu on Garcia Fernandez. BYU equalized at 6-6, but UCSD later surged ahead, 16-11, on the strength of a 4-0 stretch. The Cougars returned the favor right away, and moments after that, it was 17-17. At 20-20, Leo Durkin and Christian Rupert picked up a big stuff block. Syftestad's kill broke one final tie of 21-21, but following a timeout, the last four points went to the other side.

BYU was in command of the fourth set from the beginning. It was tied just three times, at 1-1, 2-2 and 3-3, with the Tritons calling for time trailing 7-3. Still down 18-12, they took their final timeout. A final triple block by Garcia Fernandez, Price Jarman and Storm Fa'agata-Tufuga made it 21-13, and there was no coming back from that.

Sander, the younger brother of former Cougar star and current U.S. national team member Taylor Sander, finished with 15 kills on .419 (15-2-31) hitting, three aces and 11 digs. Despite some early struggles and a .000 attack rate for the night, Garcia Fernandez joined him in the double figures with 11 kills, and got to eight digs and six blocks. Jarman had seven blocks. Durkin dished out 46 assists.

UC San Diego begins a season-long four-match road stretch on Friday, Feb. 9, making the short trip up to Irvine to complete its home-and-home series with Division II rival Concordia Irvine. First serve at CU Arena is set for 7 p.m. The Tritons had rallied to defeat the Eagles in a four-set affair in La Jolla on Jan. 20.

Triton Notes: Tanner Syftestad's 15 kills give him 1016 for his career, sixth in program history as he is just the sixth Triton men's volleyball player to reach the 1000-kill milestone ... Syftestad's 27 attacks give him 2495 for his career, also sixth all-time ... Syftestad has 47 career matches in double-figure kills, including 10 of 11 thus far in 2018 ... Milosh Stojcic's 39 assists give him 2179 for his four-year career, fifth all-time.


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