LA JOLLA, Calif. - The University of California San Diego held a late lead in the opening frame against top-ranked Long Beach State, but lost it and the match, 3-0, in Big West Conference men's volleyball action Friday night at RIMAC Arena. Set scores in front of 606 spectators were 25-22, 25-19 and 25-17.
A sixth successive defeat dropped UC San Diego to 9-15 overall and 0-7 in the Big West. First-place Long Beach State remained perfect at 22-0 overall and 7-0 in conference play. The 49ers thus clinched at least a share of the first-ever Big West regular-season championship, and have also now equaled the longest win streak in program history.
UC San Diego is assured now of playing in a Big West Tournament quarterfinal on Thursday, April 19, inside host Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. All six teams make the field, with the top two earning a bye that night and directly into the semifinals on Friday, April 20. The Tritons' seed can still be between fourth and sixth, so start time on April 19 could still be either 5 p.m. or 7:30 p.m.
Long Beach State, which has only conceded four sets in Big West activity and seven in all in 2018, out-hit the Tritons, .304-.120. UC San Diego did hold a 34-30 edge in total kills, but surrendered six aces while serving none, and was out-blocked, 9.0-5.0.
UC San Diego was ahead as late as 19-18 in the opener, but the Beach reeled off the next four points while the Tritons called both of their timeouts, and won the set.
The first two sets each featured nine tie scores. The Tritons notched the first two points in both, through back-to-back kills by Luke McDonald in the initial frame, and then kills by Nathan Thalken and McDonald to begin the second. The visitors collected 3.5 total team blocks in game one, holding UC San Diego to zero blocks.
The Beach controlled the third set from the get-go, trotting out to an 8-3 advantage ahead of the Tritons' first timeout. They were credited with a second triple block on the night, to break the only tie at 1-1, courtesy of Nick Amado, TJ DeFalco and Josh Tuaniga. Redshirt senior middle blocker Bryan Zhu (San Diego/Rancho Bernardo HS) did have a solid solo block, on 49er freshman middle Simon Anderson, for 11-6.
McDonald provided a match- and career-high 10 kills to go along with two digs and two blocks in place of fellow senior opposite hitter Tanner Syftestad, who had to sit out the match due to illness. Syftestad had previously missed both meetings with UC Irvine because of injury, before returning to the lineup last week at Hawai'i. Thalken had seven kills on .400 hitting (7-3-10), and seven digs. Zhu added four kills and a team-high three blocks, while sophomore libero Ryan Lew contributed seven digs and three assists. Senior setter Milosh Stojcic wound up with 20 assists and four digs.
Long Beach State used a well-balanced offense, with all five starting hitters finishing with between four and eight kills, led by junior opposite Kyle Ensing with eight. DeFalco, the reigning Big West Player of the Week and in fact American Volleyball Coaches Association Player of the Year, who is also a member of the U.S. national team, had four kills, four aces, three digs and two blocks.
UC San Diego and Long Beach State conclude their home-and-home season series up in Long Beach on Saturday, April 7. First serve on Senior Night inside the Walter Pyramid, site of the inaugural Big West Tournament April 19-21, is at 7 p.m. Another Beach victory would clinch the Big West regular-season title outright.
Triton Notes: UC San Diego is 5-7 at home in 2018, with one more to play ... Milosh Stojcic's 20 assists give him 2459 for his four-year career, fourth all-time ... Stojcic was back in the starting lineup for the first time since March 7, having missed three contests due to injury and then come off the bench in both meetings with Hawai'i.