LONG BEACH, Calif. - The University of California San Diego and No. 3 UC Irvine contested the opening match of the inaugural Big West Conference Men's Volleyball Tournament inside the Walter Pyramid on Thursday night, with the Anteaters taking a straight-set decision. Scores were 25-18, 25-18 and 25-16.
Sixth-seeded UC San Diego concludes the season at 9-19 overall. Third-seeded UC Irvine improves to 21-8, and advances to face second-seeded and sixth-ranked Hawai'i in Friday's first semifinal at 5:04 p.m. The Anteaters had taken both ends of the regular-season series, 3-0 at home and 3-2 in La Jolla, March 15-16.
In the final appearance of his great Triton career, three-year captain Tanner Syftestad put down a team-best 11 kills, adding five digs and two assists.
UC San Diego head coach Kevin Ring, completing his 13th season, gave all seven of his veteran senior class time on the court. Four-year starting setter Milosh Stojcic, who will move on to the University of Michigan for a master's degree in mechanical engineering in the fall, collected his last 28 assists as a Triton, and also had five digs and a block assist. Tri-captain Alec Flowers started and provided five kills on six swings without an error (.833). Fellow starting middle blocker Bryan Zhu (San Diego/Rancho Bernardo HS), a fifth-year Triton, had two kills and a block assist.
Karl Apfelbach finished with 17 kills to lead all players for UCI, hitting at an efficient .571 (17-1-28) clip with two service aces, two digs, three assists and a block. The Anteaters attacked at a rate of .551 (54-5-89) on the night.
Flowers notched the Tritons' first point at a Big West Tournament with his kill from Stojcic for a 1-1 tie early in the initial frame. Freshman outside hitter Wyatt Harrison’s cross-court kill leveled matters again at 5-5. The first stanza had 13 tie scores and six lead changes in all. In fact, the game was tied at every point from 1-1 to 13-13, before an Apfelbach kill and Aaron Koubi service ace brought about the media timeout at 15-13. Ring then had to call his first timeout down 18-14 after kills by Apfelbach and Big West Freshman of the Year Joel Schneidmiller.
A lengthy rally that included a nice save by junior outside hitter Nathan Thalken, ended in a Harrison kill for 18-15. With the challenge system in place for this tournament, Ring then won the first of his three available appeals, as the ball was ultimately judged to have been long on an Apfelbach attack, to make it 18-16. Unfortunately for the Tritons, the next three points went to UCI, and they had to call their second timeout. The 'Eaters also grabbed the last three, punctuated by a combination block by Apfelbach and sophomore middle Scott Stadick on set point.
Harrison registered UC San Diego's first block of the night early in the second set for 2-2, with a solo denial of Stadick. Thalken then alternated kills on three straight Triton points, the first one right down the middle of the court, around UCI tallies to give his side brief edges of 5-4, 6-5 and 7-6. The ninth and final tie of the frame was snapped via kills by Schneidmiller and Austin Wilmot, and 11-9. Later, Syftestad went across the scorer's table to save a rally that resulted in an awry attack long for the 'Eaters and thus a UCSD point that brought it back to within just one at 14-13. UCI manufactured the following three points, however, including successive Koubi kills between the two Triton timeouts, and five of six, for a 19-14 advantage. Stojcic and Zhu teamed up to turn back Schneidmiller for 22-17 late, but the set went to UCI.
The third set was all UCI. After the Tritons gained the first point on a Flower kill, the score was level twice at 1-1 and 2-2. Back-to-back Apfelbach kills broke that tie for good, and after a Syftestad kill, a hefty 6-0 run around Ring's first timeout made it a commanding 10-3 bulge. Apfelbach remarkably had two kills and two aces during that 6-0 stretch, serving five of those points. Though the Tritons scored the next three, the 'Eaters answered right back with three in a row of their own for a 13-6 cushion. Two straight Schneidmiller kills ended the match.
Harrison wound up with nine kills, two digs and the solo stuff. Thalken had five kills, and sophomore libero Ryan Lew a team-high eight digs.
Triton Notes: UC San Diego finished the 2018 season 4-11 away from home, and 3-1 in neutral-site contests ... Tanner Syftestad leaves the program with 1213 kills, fifth in program history, after his 11 tonight ... With 28 assists in his 100th appearance, Milosh Stojcic leaves UC San Diego with 2528 for his four-year career, fourth all-time ... Syftestad's 29 attacks give him 2965 for his career, third all-time ... Tonight's match was Syftestad's 59th in double-figure kills ... Syftestad did not serve an ace, and ends his career with 85, tied for second on the all-time list ... Syftestad also is seventh with 243 total blocks ... Syftestad's 390 kills are his single-season high ... Tonight's match marked UC San Diego's first postseason contest since winning the Molten Division III invitational title in Hoboken, N.J., on April 15, 2000 ... That day, 13th-year UCSD head coach Kevin Ring was a Triton assistant to head coach Ron Larsen (2000-05), currently an assistant on David Kniffin's UC Irvine staff ... Ring and Larsen were thus on the same bench that day over 18 years ago, and opposite benches tonight.