IRVINE, Calif. - The University of California San Diego men's volleyball team was defeated by No. 8 UC Irvine, 3-0, in its 2017 season opener Thursday night at Crawford Court. Set scores were 25-22, 25-16 and 25-14.
The match had the added significance of being the last Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) opener for UC San Diego (0-1, 0-1 MPSF). Following this milestone 25th and final season in the MPSF, the Tritons are moving to the newly-formed Big West Conference as an associate member in 2018.
UC Irvine, a full Big West institution which will also leave the MPSF, improved to 3-0 overall and 1-0 in league play.
UCSD came out and scored the first three points of the evening on a stuff block by Tanner Syftestad and Bryan Zhu (San Diego/Rancho Bernardo HS), a first career kill by true freshman outside hitter Devin Pontigon (Oceanside/El Camino HS), and an Ian Colbert service ace. The host 'Eaters tallied the next four, however, and used a second 4-0 run moments later, sparked by a pair of Tamir Hershko aces, to force the Tritons' first timeout, up 8-4.
UCSD chipped away and ultimately leveled the score again at 14-14 on a Syftestad ace, then retook a 15-14 edge on a UCI attacking error. A third 4-0 stretch by the 'Eaters, around the Tritons' second timeout, gave them back a 20-17 lead, which they parlayed into a 25-22 first-set victory. Pontigon led all players with four kills, without an error on seven swings (.571), in his first collegiate set.
The Tritons again managed the first point of the second stanza, via Colbert kill. After the visitors procured their second lead of the game at 9-8 on a bad UCI attack, a 3-0 run pushed the 'Eaters to an 11-9 advantage and caused UCSD to call a first timeout. Coming out of that break, Colbert's attack error produced just the first lead of the frame of more than two points for either side, as the hosts went up, 12-9. A fifth sequence of four consecutive Anteater points put them in command at 17-11.
The match's first triple block, by Thomas Hodges, Michael Saeta and Matthew Younggren on Pontigon, made it 20-13, with UCI rounding out the set shortly thereafter at 25-16 on a David Parker ace.
For the third successive frame, UCSD notched the set's first point, on a Saeta service miss. Saeta's solo denial on Pontigon, though, gave the 'Eaters a 6-3 advantage. Another triple stuff, this time by Hodges, Karl Apfelbach and Scott Stadick, followed immediately by a solo rejection by Stadick on Zhu, made it a 12-8 cushion for UCI. A Hodges ace brought on UCSD's first timeout at 16-10. A Saeta ace and ensuing Parker kill amounted to the final points as the 'Eaters took the set, 25-14.
Pontigon led all players with nine kills. Colbert added eight kills on .500 (8-1-14) hitting. Junior setter Milosh Stojcic had 26 assists, two digs and a lone kill on one attempt.
Saeta finished with 18 assists and team-high eight kills in a dual role for UCI. The senior hit .700 (8-1-10) and also collected three aces, two blocks and a dig. Hodges served a match-high four of the 'Eaters' 12 aces in all, to 12 errors, while UCSD managed just three aces against 17 mistakes from the line. UCI hit .482 as a team.
"We got off to a really good start offensively, hitting .478 in the first set," said UCSD head coach Kevin Ring, who embarked on his 12th season in charge at his alma mater. "We were really competitive, but unfortunately for us tonight, the big difference between us and Irvine was in serving and passing. We missed 17 serves. That's way too high a number. Irvine, to their credit, served really tough and certainly made it a challenge for us in serve-receive.
"This was a good test for us, against a good serving team in our league, and we're going to face other good serving teams in our upcoming matches. The big challenge for us is just what can we learn from tonight, apply it, and get better at the next opportunity."
Pontigon and Ryan Lew earned their college debuts as Triton starters at outside hitter and libero, respectively. Lew had a team-high five digs. Redshirt freshman Xander Jimenez also made his first career appearance late in the initial frame.
UCSD now awaits its 2017 home opener this Saturday, Jan. 7, against non-conference foe Grand Canyon. First serve at RIMAC Arena in La Jolla is set for 5 p.m.