UC San Diego Heads to Long Beach for Inaugural Big West Tournament; Faces UC Irvine in Quarterfinals Thursday
TRITONS SET FOR INAUGURAL BIG WEST TOURNAMENT
The University of California San Diego men's volleyball team heads to Long Beach on Wednesday evening, April 18, for the very first Big West Conference Men's Volleyball Tournament. The sixth-seeded Tritons (9-18) will take on third-seeded and third-ranked UC Irvine (20-8) in the opening match and first quarterfinal, on Thursday, April 19. First serve inside host Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid in Long Beach is set for 5:04 p.m. The match will be broadcast live on ESPN3. UC San Diego will be hoping that third time's the charm, as it was swept in Irvine on March 15, before getting edged in a five-set thriller in La Jolla the next night, in the two regular-season meetings between the sides.
Thursday will mark a ninth consecutive match for UC San Diego against a team ranked in the top 10 nationally. It will also be the Tritons' first postseason contest since winning the Molten Division III invitational national championship in 2000. The top two seeds, top-ranked host Long Beach State and sixth-ranked, second-seeded Hawai'i, earn byes into the semifinals on April 20. Thursday's winner would get the Rainbow Warriors in the first semifinal at 5:04 p.m. The winner of the Big West Tournament will be one of the seven teams participating in the 2018 National Collegiate Championship. The Tritons are 4-10 outside of La Jolla in 2018, including a perfect 3-0 in neutral-site affairs.
BIG WEST TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
Thursday, April 19 - Quarterfinals
#1: No. 6 UC San Diego vs. No. 3 UC Irvine - 5:04 p.m.
#2: No. 5 UC Santa Barbara vs. No. 4 CSUN - 7:34 p.m.
Friday, April 20 - Semifinals
#3: Winner #1 vs. No. 2 Hawai'i - 5:04 p.m.
#4: Winner #2 vs. No. 1 Long Beach State - 7:34 p.m.
Saturday, April 21 - Championship
#5: Winner #3 vs. Winner #4 - 7:04 p.m.
All five matches of the inaugural Big West Tournament will air live on ESPN3 or WatchESPN. Sam Farber and U.S. Olympian Dain Blanton, a 2000 gold medalist in beach volleyball, will call the action for UC San Diego's quarterfinal date with UC Irvine, with Matt Brown serving as the sideline reporter. Live stats will also be provided. Fans can access live coverage from the Schedule/Results page, or by clicking on the links above. Follow @UCSDtritons for in-match Twitter updates throughout the Tritons' tournament run.
Tickets for the 2018 Big West Tournament can be purchased as a three-day all-tournament pass, just for Friday and Saturday's semifinals and championship match, or as single-day tickets. Single-day tickets will be available online beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, April 19, and at the Walter Pyramid box office starting at 4 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, and 6 p.m. on Saturday. A discounted rate is available for seniors 60 and over, and youth 3-12. The Walter Pyramid is located at 1250 Bellflower Boulevard, Long Beach, CA 90840.
The UC San Diego men's volleyball program joined the Big West Conference as an associate member when the league announced on May 31, 2016, that it was adding men's volleyball as its 18th sponsored sport, for the 2018 season. On Nov. 27, 2017, UC San Diego was officially invited to become a full member of the NCAA Division I Big West. The Tritons will begin a four-year reclassification period starting in the fall of 2020. They will play complete Big West schedules that season in other sports like baseball, basketball, soccer, softball, etc., and will continue to be eligible for National Collegiate championships in men's volleyball, men's and women's water polo, and fencing. For the 2024-25 academic year, all sports will be eligible to compete in Big West and NCAA Division I championships. Read the full press release here.
#BWCMVB AT A GLANCE
UC San Diego Men's Volleyball began a brand-new era this January with the start of the inaugural year of the Big West Conference. UCSD is an associate member after 25 seasons in the MPSF, joined by full Big West members CSUN, Hawai'i, Long Beach State, UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara, all of whom also moved over from the MPSF, to give the Big West the minimum six teams necessary to maintain an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. All six squads make the Big West Tournament, to be held this first season at LBSU's Walter Pyramid, April 19-21.
UC San Diego was one of four teams receiving votes outside of the preseason American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division I-II Men's Coaches Top 15 Poll on Dec. 7, and remained as such in each of the first five in-season releases before dropping out on Feb. 12 following two losses the previous week. It was the first time since 2014 that the Tritons gained mention in the AVCA's preseason edition. UC San Diego is ranked No. 4 in the second-year Off the Block (OTB)/Springbak, Inc. Division II National Coaches Poll. In the first-year VolleyMob Men's Power Rankings, UCSD was the preseason No. 20, and moved up as high as No. 16 on Jan. 22. They were No. 24 in OTB's preseason power poll.
UC SAN DIEGO IN THE AVCA POLL
• April 9: NR
• April 2: NR
• March 26: NR
• March 19: NR
• March 12: NR
• March 5: NR
• Feb. 26: RV
• Feb. 19: NR
• Feb. 12: NR
• Feb. 5: RV
• Jan. 29: RV
• Jan. 22: RV
• Jan. 15: RV
• Jan. 8: RV
• Dec. 7 (Preseason): RV
LAST TIME OUT
UC San Diego dropped both ends of its home-and-home series with ninth-ranked CSUN last Friday and Saturday night. The Matadors initially took a 3-1 home decision, with the Tritons able to grab the third set before succumbing. Senior opposites Tanner Syftestad and Arvis Greene, Jr., led their clubs with 12 and 17 kills, respectively. UC San Diego was then swept at home on Senior Night on Saturday, with Syftestad putting down 11 kills.
BIG WEST AWARDS
The first Big West men's volleyball postseason awards were announced on Monday, with senior opposite and captain Tanner Syftestad making the 16-player All-Big West First Team, and outside hitter Wyatt Harrison chosen by the six head coaches to the seven-player Big West All-Freshman Team.
SEVEN VETERAN SENIORS
Seven outstanding seniors were recognized prior to last Saturday's first serve on Senior Night at RIMAC Arena, in Luke McDonald, Drew Sloane, Milosh Stojcic, Bryan Zhu, and tri-captains Alec Flowers, Luke La Mont and Tanner Syftestad. All are fourth- or fifth-year Tritons.
SYFTESTAD AMONG THE NATIONAL LEADERS OFFENSIVELY
Tanner Syftestad is now second in the NCAA Division I-II in kills (4.51), points (5.24) and attacks (10.04) per set. He is 28th in hitting percentage (.316), 46th in aces per set (0.321), 67th in blocks per set (0.75) and 71st in digs per set (1.63). Syftestad has accounted for the sixth-biggest (tied) kill output of 2018 nationally, three times in fact, with his 27 from the five-set season-opening win over McKendree, four-set victory over Ottawa (AZ), and five-set loss at Concordia. Those performances are tied for third-best in the Big West. He ranks third with his career-high 66 attacks at McKendree (2/16), with four other 50-plus efforts. Those 66 attempts are the most this year in a four-set match, by 10.
SYFTESTAD PROMINENT ON ALL-TIME LISTS
Late in the fourth set of the Feb. 3 home loss to Stanford, Tanner Syftestad became just the sixth player in program history to reach 1000 kills. Having put down the kill that gave fellow fourth-year senior Milosh Stojcic his 2000th assist just eight days prior, Syftestad converted on the Stojcic assist for his 16h of 17 kills on the night, and No. 1000 as a Triton, for a 19-16 lead in that fourth frame. Sitting fifth now with 1202, Syftestad is third in attacks (2936), and tied for second in service aces (85). The school record for aces belongs to setter great Phil Bannan, with 110 from 2008-11.
STOJCIC FOURTH IN PROGRAM HISTORY
Senior setter Milosh Stojcic is No. 4 all-time at UC San Diego with exactly 2500 career assists. Assist number 2000 came on Jan. 26 at Grand Canyon, as Tanner Syftestad's kill to pull the Tritons within one at 10-9 in the opening set gave Stojcic his necessary sixth assist of the contest. He thus became only the sixth Triton to achieve 2000 assists. The Redondo Beach native surpassed the 1000 mark at UCLA on Jan. 14, 2017. Stojcic was the lone Triton to start all 27 matches a year ago, and was the only one to start the first 18 contests in 2018 before having to sit out three matches due to an injury suffered late against USC on March 7. He came off the bench on both nights at Hawai'i, before starting each of the last four contests. An appearance Thursday night against UC Irvine would be No. 100 for Stojcic's great college career.
HARRISON IS UC SAN DIEGO'S FIRST BIG WEST FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
Wyatt Harrison, an outside hitter out of Kilauea, Hawaii, earned the distinction on March 12 of becoming UC San Diego's first-ever student-athlete to be named Big West Conference Freshman of the Week. Harrison put down 12 kills on .435 hitting (12-2-23) in a 3-1 home win over USC on March 7, and 10 more at a .533 clip (10-2-15), with three service aces, in a four-set loss at Stanford two nights later. He started out 9-0-9 offensively in that match over the first three frames. Harrison has posted nine matches in double-figure kills as a rookie.
UC San Diego was 7-3 after 10 matches for the first time in program history, beginning with the 1989 campaign. The Tritons opened up a perfect 3-0 for the first time since 1996. The Tritons were .500 or better through 10 contests four other times, in 1996 (6-4) when they started 6-0 before dropping the next eight, as well as in 2017 (5-5), 2004 (5-5) and 1989 (5-5). The six teams of the brand-new Big West Conference have combined to go 97-56 (.634), taking up four of the top nine spots in the latest AVCA poll, led by unanimous No. 1 Long Beach State (24-1). The Tritons' nine wins are two more than a year ago (7-20), and their most since the 2012 campaign (9-19).
OTHER NATIONAL STATISTICAL LEADERS
Milosh Stojcic is 22nd in assists per set (9.11). Fellow seniors Alec Flowers and Bryan Zhu are 36th (.926) and 50th (0.822), respectively, in blocks per set. UC San Diego as a team is sixth in attacks (28.86), 13th in digs (9.56), 14th in kills (12.08) and 15th in assists (11.40) per set. For single matches, Drew Sloane's career-high 10 total blocks (1/27 vs. OUAZ) is tied for seventh nationally, with Alec Flowers' .900 (9-0-10) attack percentage (1/19 vs. UCSC) tied for third.
STELLAR WEEKLY AWARDS HAUL FOR SYFTESTAD
On Jan. 8, senior captain Tanner Syftestad was named the first-ever Big West Conference Men's Volleyball Player of the Week following an incredible weekend during the first-year league's opening. He totaled 49 kills, or a conference-best average of 5.44 per set, while hitting an efficient .361 as an opposite. Syftestad put down match highs of 27 kills in five sets against McKendree on Jan. 5, and 22 more in four against King the next day. On Jan. 9, he became the first Triton to be chosen Sports Imports/AVCA Division I-II Men's Player of the Week, since Vaun Lennon on April 3, 2012, and just the fourth in program history. Syftestad also picked up VolleyMob Player of the Week honorable mention. He later on Jan. 23 became the first Triton named VolleyMob Player of the Week.
21-Tanner Syftestad (Best of 27 on 1/5 vs. MU, 1/27 vs. OUAZ and 2/9 at CUI)
9-Wyatt Harrison (Best of 19 on 3/16 vs. UCI)
3-Xander Jimenez (Best of 14 on 3/16 vs. UCI)
1-Alec Flowers (12 on 3/16 vs. UCI)
1-Luke La Mont (10 on 1/20 vs. CUI)
1-Luke McDonald (10 on 4/6 vs. LBSU)
1-Nathan Thalken (10 on 3/16 vs. UCI)
6-Ryan Lew (Best of 16 on 3/16 vs. UCI)
4-Tanner Syftestad (Best of 15 on 2/23 at UCSB)
3-Milosh Stojcic (Best of 13 on 2/9 at CUI)
2-Nathan Thalken (Best of 11 on 1/5 vs. MU)
1-Thomas DeStefano (10 on 2/9 at CUI)
1-Xander Jimenez (13 on 2/16 at MU)
1-Connor Walbrecht (13 on 3/16 vs. UCI)
1-Drew Sloane (10 on 1/27 vs. OUAZ)
58-Tanner Syftestad (Best of 31 on 1/28/17 vs. HIU; 15 with 20-plus and one with 30-plus)
9-Wyatt Harrison (Best of 19 on 3/16/18 vs. UCI)
7-Alec Flowers (Best of 15 on 3/6/15 vs. CBU)
4-Xander Jimenez (Best of 14 on 3/16/18 vs. UCI)
2-Luke La Mont (Best of 12 on 1/30/15 at BYU)
2-Nathan Thalken (Best of 11 on 4/1/17 at STAN)
2-Bryan Zhu (Best of 11 on 3/2/16 vs. PEP)
1-Luke McDonald (10 on 4/6/18 vs. LBSU)
11-Ryan Lew (Best of 20 on 1/28/17 vs. HIU)
6-Milosh Stojcic (Best of 13 on 2/9/18 at CUI)
5-Tanner Syftestad (Best of 15 on 2/23/18 at UCSB)
2-Xander Jimenez (Best of 13 on 2/16/18 at MU)
2-Nathan Thalken (Best of 11 on 1/5/18 vs. MU)
1-Thomas DeStefano (10 on 2/9/18 at CUI)
1-Connor Walbrecht (13 on 3/16/18 vs. UCI)
Four current Tritons have combined for 13 career double-doubles, with nine this season:
Milosh Stojcic (6)
2/9/18 at Concordia (51 assists, 13 digs)
2/8/18 vs. BYU (39 assists, 11 digs)
1/26/18 at Grand Canyon (37 assists, 10 digs)
3/17/17 vs. Concordia (52 assists, 10 digs)
3/11/17 vs. Ball State (16 assists, 11 digs)
1/23/16 at Holy Names (31 assists, 10 digs)
Tanner Syftestad (5)
2/23/18 at UC Santa Barbara (20 kills, 15 digs)
2/9/18 at Concordia (27 kills, 11 digs)
1/27/18 vs. Ottawa (AZ) (27 kills, 12 digs)
1/20/18 vs. Concordia (24 kills, 11 digs)
1/7/15 at Concordia (12 kills, 10 digs)
Xander Jimenez (1)
2/16/18 at McKendree (11 kills, 13 digs)
Connor Walbrecht (1)
3/16/18 vs. UC Irvine (50 assists, 13 digs)
KEVIN RING SEASON OUTLOOK QUOTES
(On the season) "We return a number of key players from last year's squad, so we are looking to build upon our performance from last season. We've got a motivated group of student-athletes, with a strong senior class, looking to make this our best season ever. I think we have the chance to do that. I look at the season in three segments: 1) non-conference match schedule, 2) Big West Conference regular-season schedule and 3) Big West Conference Tournament. Our goal is to grow as a team so that we gain valuable experience as we head into each new segment of the season, with the ultimate goal to be playing our best volleyball in the Big West Tournament."
(On joining the Big West for men's volleyball) "I am extremely excited about the inaugural Big West men's volleyball season. We've got a group of coaches within the Big West, along with the conference office, committed to being the top men's volleyball conference in the country. Every match we play leading up to our Big West schedule will be important for the strength of the conference, but the real excitement begins when we open up conference play. UCSD Men's Volleyball, players and coaches alike, are thrilled to be the first program at UCSD to compete within the Big West Conference and represent our school."
Back for UC San Diego head coach Kevin Ring in 2018 are his starting setter, Milosh Stojcic, primary libero, Ryan Lew, and senior opposite hitter Tanner Syftestad, who earned Off the Block's very first Division II National Player of the Year award, as well as VolleyballMag.com All-America honorable mention and All-MPSF Second Team selection. The now-third-year team captain had a tremendous junior campaign with team bests of 366 kills (4.21 per set), 28 aces and 62 total blocks, to go along with 102 digs. Stojcic was the only Triton to start all 27 matches and produced 9.08 assists per set and 107 digs. As a true freshman, Lew paced the squad with 154 digs, averaging two per set. Coming off a 2017 season in which it posted a five-match win streak that included triumphs at USC and at home against Princeton and CSUN, UC San Diego's 2018 schedule features 13 of 27 matches in La Jolla. The Tritons opened the campaign at UCLA's Wooden Classic Tournament, and also traveled to Phoenix, Ariz., and St. Louis, Mo. Their 10-match Big West slate began at UC Santa Barbara on Feb. 23.
SCINTILLATING SEASON FOR SYFTESTAD
Tanner Syftestad was outstanding a season ago. The opposite hitter out of Sacramento led the Tritons in kills (366), aces (28) and total blocks (62). Syftestad averaged a remarkable 4.21 kills per set, which ranked fifth in the nation. He was also third in points (4.92) and attacks (9.33) per set. Syftestad had a team-best 17 matches with double-figure kills, including a career-high 31 at home against Hope International on Jan. 28 in the middle of an incredible five-match stretch of kill totals of 20-plus. He held at least a share of the team lead in kills in 20 of the 25 matches he appeared in.
UC SAN DIEGO CAPTAINS
Team tri-captains for the 2018 season were designated as seniors Alec Flowers, Luke La Mont and Tanner Syftestad. Syftestad is now a three-year captain, while Flowers and La Mont are first-timers.
UNIQUE STORIES IN TRITON LINEUP
• Tanner Syftestad is a fourth-year Triton who transferred after spending 2013-14 as a true freshman playing club volleyball at Chico State, which does not sponsor an intercollegiate men's volleyball program. The Sacramento native appeared in 80 of 83 matches his first three seasons, starting 76 of them at opposite and producing double-figure kill totals in 37. Syftestad led UC San Diego in kills (241), aces (15) and total blocks (75) in 2015, and was second in all three categories (216-15-44) in 2016. He returned to the top rung in all three (366-28-62) in 2017.
• Alec Flowers was serving as a team manager to begin his freshman year in 2015 while slated to redshirt, before joining the active roster, making his college debut on Feb. 13, and ultimately starting nine of the final 10 matches at outside hitter. He had team bests of 15 kills and seven digs in his first start on March 6, 2015, and is now a senior captain.
UC San Diego's schedule has 13 of 27 matches at home for the second straight year ... The Tritons are 3-9 in three-set matches, 5-6 in four-set matches and 1-3 in five-setters in 2018 ... Wyatt Harrison has earned four Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. National Freshman of the Week honorable menions (1/22, 2/5, 3/12 and 3/19) ... UC San Diego is 5-8 in openers under Kevin Ring following the five-set triumph over McKendree (IL) at UCLA's Wooden Classic Tournament on Jan. 5, which marked the Tritons' first season-opening success away from home since 2013 ... UC San Diego was picked sixth in the first Big West preseason coaches' poll, with 2017 MPSF champion and national semifinalist Long Beach State the favorite ... For the second year in a row, Tanner Syftestad was one of 15 standouts around the country named to the preseason watch list for the fourth annual Bryan Ivie Award, presented by Off the Block to the best opposite in NCAA Division I-II ... UC San Diego led the MPSF for a second straight year with a program-record nine MPSF All-Academic distinctions in 2017 (seven in 2016), including returners Alec Flowers, Xander Jimenez, Luke McDonald, Milosh Stojcic, Nathan Thalken and Bryan Zhu, with Zhu now a three-time honoree, and Flowers, McDonald and Stojcic repeat selections.
Of the 23 players on UC San Diego's 2018 roster, 20 hail from California, with the lone exceptions being true freshmen Gabe Avillion (State College, PA), Wyatt Harrison (Kilauea, HI) and Macune Gilruth (Nairobi, Kenya) ... UCSD has 13 returners, 11 of whom saw action a season ago with two redshirt freshmen, and 10 newcomers, all true freshmen ... Of those 10 true freshmen, three made their college debuts in the opening weekend in Harrison, Bryce Curtis and Thomas DeStefano, with Collin Shannon added to the mix in the Jan. 11 home opener, alongside redshirt freshman Vlad Pesic with the start at a middle blocker spot ... The lone San Diego product is fifth-year senior middle blocker Bryan Zhu (Rancho Bernardo HS).
HEAD COACH KEVIN RING
Kevin Ring is in his 13th season in charge at his alma mater. The 2009 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Coach of the Year, he has a 93-274 overall record at the helm. Before being elevated to the head position on June 15, 2005, Ring spent nine years as an assistant for the UCSD men's squad. He got his start in La Jolla as the men's volleyball team manager from 1989-91 before playing for the Tritons for three seasons. Ring was the full-time manager for the U.S. men's national team from 1991-93 and continued on as a technical advisor through 1996. He accompanied Team USA to the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona and the 1996 Games in Atlanta. The 1992 squad left Spain with a bronze medal. To this day, Ring maintains strong ties to USA Volleyball, and aided women's national team head coach Karch Kiraly and his staff in preparing Team USA for the 2016 Rio Olympics. That involvement included serving as an on-court assistant to Kiraly for three matches in Bangkok, Thailand, on the final stop of the FIVB World Grand Prix preliminary rounds in August of 2014. In the December 2015 issue of Volleyball Magazine, Ring appeared at No. 10 in a listing of the top head coaches in college men's volleyball, as voted by his peers.
ABOUT THE ANTEATERS
No. 3 UC Irvine (20-8) has reached the 20-win plateau for the third time in the last four years. The Anteaters split their two meetings with No. 12 UC Santa Barbara, losing 3-2 on Thursday night before returning home for a straight-set triumph on Saturday. They are 11-4 away from home in 2018, including a perfect 3-0 in neutral-site dates. Outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller was named Monday as the Big West Freshman of the Year. Sophomore middle blocker Scott Stadick is the Big West Defensive Player of the Week for the fifth time and second straight to conclude the regular season. Stadick was joined on the All-Big West First Team by junior opposite Karl Apfelbach and senior outside hitter Aaron Koubi. Junior setter Dante Chakravorti and senior libero David Parker earned All-Big West honorable mention, with Schneidmiller and middle blocker Austin Wilmot making the All-Freshman Team. David Kniffin is in his sixth year in charge at his alma mater. He guided the 'Eaters to the 2013 national crown in his first go-around. Among Kniffin's assistants is former UC San Diego men's head coach Ron Larsen (2000-05), who was in fact in charge of the Tritons for their last postseason contest, the Division III invitational title match in 2000.
UC Irvine leads the all-time series, 45-10, and has taken the last 15 meetings dating back to a 3-1 UCSD triumph in Irvine on Jan. 12, 2011. The Anteaters have won 3-0 at home in five straight seasons, including March 15 for this current campaign, and in the Tritons' 2017 opener. Three straight meetings in La Jolla have been witness to five-set thrillers that ultimately went to the visitors. In both 2016 and 2017, UC San Diego rallied from a 2-0 deficit before falling in the decisive frame. On March 16 of this year, the Tritons won the opener, then forced a fifth after dropping games two and three. The fifth sets in 2016, 2017 and 2018 were 15-13, 17-15 and 17-15, respectively. UC San Diego was up 9-6 and 12-11 in this year's decider. Seniors Tanner Syftestad and Milosh Stojcic did not play in either matchup with UCI this season, both due to injury. Previously, the 'Eaters pulled out another five-set affair at the Bren Events Center after UCSD had taken the first two frames on March 31, 2013.
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If UC San Diego should knock off the No. 3 seed, UC Irvine, on Thursday, it would face second-seeded and sixth-ranked Hawai'i in the first Big West Tournament semifinal on Friday, April 20, at 5 p.m. The championship match is set for a 7 p.m. first serve inside the Walter Pyramid on Saturday, April 21.