LA JOLLA, Calif. - UC San Diego got a career-high 18 kills from Mike Brunsting and a match-high 16 digs from Tanner Howard to win a thriller over Grand Canyon University, 3-2, in non-conference men’s volleyball at RIMAC Arena on Friday night. Scores were 30-28, 17-25, 25-20, 16-25, 15-6.
It was a first win this season for UCSD, with its overall record now standing at 1-15.
Grand Canyon, out of Phoenix, Ariz., fell to 6-10 in dropping its fifth straight match. The Antelopes are new members of the NCAA Division I after moving up from Division II, and compete in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association.
Friday’s meeting marked just the third all-time between the programs, with UCSD now holding the slight 2-1 edge.
Brunsting, a senior out of Poway and Francis Parker School, in fact notched his third career double-double, adding 10 digs to his 18 kills. Having begun the season as the Tritons’ starting setter, he moved recently to the opposite hitter position. He has reached double figures in kills in five matches in 2014 and six times for his career.
Howard made his first appearance in a Triton uniform at libero. With ninth-year head coach Kevin Ring missing both his liberos among a host of injury misfortunes, the native of Pismo Beach found himself on the roster just this week and on the court when the first serve went up on Friday night. Howard was the team manager as a true freshman in 2013, and was serving in that capacity again thus far this season before fate called his number, and he took full advantage. In addition to his 16 digs, Howard put together a solid passing game with zero reception errors among 27 opportunities, and added three assists.
The 16 digs by Howard signified the most by a Triton this season.
Redshirt sophomore outside hitters Kirill Rudenko (12) and Eric Barber (10) joined Brunsting in double-figure kills. Rudenko’s total was a career high, as were his two service aces. Barber matched his best offensive performance. Senior middle blocker Fred Stahl was effective in key moments and finished with six kills, his most since producing eight on Jan. 16. He hit .417 (6-1-12), and added four total blocks. Brunsting had four block assists of his own. Junior setter Garrett Dempsey provided a season-high 46 assists.
The first set was the most highly-contested of the evening, featuring six lead changes and 15 tie scores. UCSD trotted out to a 6-1 lead, benefitting from four GCU attack errors before the visitors came back to level it at 8-8, partly on the strength of a pair of triple blocks, both by the identical trio of Tanner Maxwell, Connor Dougherty and Keith Smith. A Dougherty ace forced the first timeout of the match, by the Tritons, down 12-9. Rudenko’s kill and two stuff blocks, first by Rudenko and Stahl and then by Brunsting and Stahl, pulled UCSD within one at 14-13.
A third and final triple block of the contest, this one by Maxwell, Dougherty and Ben Ponnet, broke a 16-16 tie. Back-to-back Triton errors gave GCU the initial set point at 24-23 as Ring called his final timeout of the frame. Brunsting’s kill made it 24-24, and UCSD had to fend off one more set point at 25-24, with Barber on that kill.
Dougherty’s awry attack gave the Tritons their first of four set points, with Rudenko finally capitalizing on the final one to give UCSD its first set victory at home of 2014 in its fifth match at RIMAC.
GCU led from start to finish in set two after tallying the first three points and taking a 7-2 lead.
UCSD was ahead 3-1 early in the third, and later broke a 16-16 deadlock through a service error and Barber kill. A 3-0 run regained a 19-18 edge for the Antelopes and brought on Ring’s first timeout. From there, the Tritons scored seven of the final eight points, including the last five after Dougherty’s kill had tied things at 20-20.
Much like the second set, the ‘Lopes controlled the fourth, taking leads of 5-2, 7-3 and 11-5 before a Triton timeout and largely cruising for the remainder.
The decider was a different story, as UCSD opened with consecutive Brunsting kills and went up 3-0 as Barber expertly handled a GCU overpass. The Tritons forged ahead at 6-1 on a combo block by Brunsting and Stahl, with a 4-0 run through two Rudenko kills and two hitting errors making it 11-3. Rudenko’s ace put the score at 13-5, and shortly after another bad attack by the ‘Lopes, Barber’s kill ended it.
Ponnet collected a match-high 19 kills for the ‘Lopes and completed his double-double with 13 digs. Dougherty had 12 kills, two aces and a match-high eight blocks. Libero Jared Morrison got to 15 digs. Smith finished with 44 assists, three kills, one ace, eight digs and five block assists. GCU out-blocked UCSD on the night, 12.5-7.0.
UCSD remains at home and returns to Mountain Pacific Sports Federation action against No. 6 UC Santa Barbara on Saturday night. First serve inside RIMAC Arena is set for 7 p.m.