Tritons Take Opening Set and Threaten Decider, but Fall in Four at Stanford in Non-Conference Finale
STANFORD, Calif. - The University of California San Diego men's volleyball team won the opening set and came agonizingly close to forcing a decisive fifth, but lost to Stanford University, 3-1, in its non-conference finale Friday night at Burnham Pavilion. Set scores were 23-25, 25-20, 25-18 and 25-23.
With the defeat, UC San Diego drops to 9-10 overall. Stanford, a former Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) rival before the Tritons moved this year to the new Big West Conference, improves to 4-15. The Cardinal had won this season's initial meeting, also 3-1, in La Jolla back on Feb. 3, and have won the last 15 matchups in all.
Senior opposite hitter and team tri-captain Tanner Syftestad and freshman outside hitter Wyatt Harrison provided 10 kills apiece. Harrison was a perfect nine for nine on the offensive end through three sets, and wound up hitting .533 (10-2-15). Both players served three aces, as each team had eight of those on the night. Syftestad just missed a fifth double-double with a team-high nine digs and five block assists.
Sophomore setter Connor Walbrecht drew his first collegiate start in place of senior Milosh Stojcic, who left with an injury late in Wednesday night's home win over USC. The La Cañada product collected 26 assists, three digs, two kills, an ace and one block.
The senior middle tandem of Alec Flowers and Bryan Zhu (San Diego/Rancho Bernardo HS) combined for nine total blocks. Zhu had eight kills on .545 hitting (8-2-11). Sophomore libero Ryan Lew contributed five digs and a career-best six assists.
UC San Diego turned a 12-11 deficit into a 17-12 advantage with a 6-0 run in the opening frame. Harrison had three kills and Syftestad one of his aces in the middle of that stretch. A later sequence of three straight Cardinal errors, with a bad serve followed by two awry attacks, made it 23-19 before a Harrison kill on set point. Walbrecht had produced a real clever dump for a kill and 20-17 advantage.
Stanford was largely in control throughout the second. After relinquishing the first two points, the home side broke a fourth and final tie at 5-5, and led for the remainder. Two straight aces by Harrison gave the Tritons some hope at 16-14, but they served three straight errors around a pair of Syftestad kills, to leave them at a 20-17 deficit.
The third set was all Cardinal in the early going after notching the first five points, taking a 7-1 lead at UCSD's first timeout, and also coming out of that break with a Jaylen Jasper kill for an 8-1 bulge. To the Tritons' credit, they battled back into it, forcing a Stanford timeout at 11-8 after three straight points on a Harrison kill and back-to-back hitting errors, the second one with a solo block by Zhu. Syftestad's second ace of the night leveled matters very briefly at 17-17, but Stanford tallied eight of the final nine to grab a 2-1 lead in games.
The Tritons were up 12-9 and 16-12 at the two Stanford timeouts in the fourth. They added two more points via Syftestad kill and ace out of that second break in the action for 18-12, and were still ahead by six at 21-15, before the Cardinal rattled off 10 of the last 12 to end the contest.
Jasper, just a freshman, finished with 27 kills to lead all players.
UC San Diego heads home on Saturday and rounds out the regular season with eight successive Big West matches, beginning next week with a home-and-home against No. 3 UC Irvine. The first meeting is in Irvine on Thursday, March 15, with the teams facing off again in La Jolla the following night. Both first serves are set for 7 p.m.
Triton Notes: UC San Diego finished 1-6 this season against MPSF opposition ... Tanner Syftestad's 10 kills give him 1161 for his career, fifth in program history ... Syftestad's 32 attacks give him 2829 for his career, moving him up from fifth to fourth all-time ahead of Jim Waller's (2001-04) 2818 ... With three more aces, Syftestad has 84 as a Triton, third all-time ... Syftestad had gone three matches without an ace, his longest drought of the year ... Tonight marked Syftestad's 55th career match in double-figure kills, including 18 of 19 in 2018 ... Milosh Stojcic was the only Triton to start all 27 matches a year ago, and also each of the first 18 this year, before missing tonight's contest ... Stojcic had started 47 matches in a row in all.