LONG BEACH, Calif. - The University of California San Diego was not able to make a dent in the current juggernaut that is top-ranked Long Beach State, falling in straight sets for the second night in a row. Set scores for the Big West Conference men's volleyball contest at Walter Pyramid on Saturday were 25-21, 25-18 and 25-13.
UC San Diego, which has now lost its last seven, dropped to 9-16 overall and 0-8 in the Big West. Long Beach State stayed perfect at 23-0 overall and 8-0 in conference play. The 49ers had already clinched at least a share of the first-ever Big West regular-season championship with a sweep in La Jolla on Friday night in the initial meeting between the sides. Saturday's result assured them the outright title, and the top seed for the inaugural Big West Tournament, which the Beach will host inside the Walter Pyramid, April 19-21. The victory also meant a new program-record win streak.
The Tritons' loss locked them into the No. 6 seed for the Big West Tournament. They will play the No. 3 seed, undetermined as of yet, in the first quarterfinal at the Walter Pyramid on Thursday, April 19, beginning at 5 p.m. All six teams make the field, with the top two earning a bye that night and directly into the semifinals on April 20.
UC San Diego took advantage of seven Beach service errors in the opening stanza and led for much of the early going, indeed by as many as five at 10-5 on a Nathan Thalken kill and 15-10 on a Thalken ace. Senior opposite Luke McDonald had a kill, followed immediately by his only ace, for an earlier 8-4 edge that forced a Beach timeout. The 49ers regained the upper hand, 19-18, for the first time since 2-1. The score was still tied a seventh and final time at 21-21, when the 49ers reeled off the final four points.
The second and third games each featured just one tie score. In the second, Long Beach State got out to an 8-3 lead, and later used a 5-0 run around UCSD's first timeout, to take full command at 16-8. Collin Shannon, a true freshman opposite hitter from Westwood, did enter the fray at 8-3 and provide five kills, and his first collegiate block, of the solo variety, over the remainder of the set. The fourth kill and solo stuff, on Bjarne Huus, came back-to-back late for 21-14 and 21-15. Both of those points were served by fellow true freshman Bryce Curtis, out of San Clemente.
UC San Diego was down 5-1 already when head coach Kevin Ring had to call his first timeout in the third. It later became 9-2 and 12-5 as the Beach cruised to the sweep.
Like Shannon, McDonald and Thalken finished with five kills apiece, as did senior tri-captain Alec Flowers. Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Xander Jimenez led the Tritons with six kills and five digs off the bench. Sophomore setter Connor Walbrecht had 11 assists and four digs in a reserve role.
The Tritons equaled their season low of 3.0 total team blocks.
TJ DeFalco and Kyle Ensing reached double figures with 10 kills each for LBSU. A third junior star, setter Josh Tuaniga, put together a double-double with 34 assists and a match-high 11 digs. He added one of the Beach's eight aces, and their only solo block.
UC San Diego wraps up the regular-season slate with another home-and-home Big West series, with No. 9 CSUN (13-10, 3-5). The teams first square off at The Matadome in Northridge on Friday, April 13, then head down to La Jolla to meet again on Senior Night at RIMAC Arena on Saturday, April 14. Both first serves are slated for 7 p.m.
Triton Notes: UC San Diego is 4-9 away from home in 2018 ... Milosh Stojcic's seven assists give him 2466 for his four-year career, fourth all-time ... Tanner Syftestad missed his second straight match due to illness ... Nathan Thalken started at an outside hitter spot for the second successive night after having previously been in the lineup back on Jan. 31 ... Long Beach State's sweep in La Jolla Friday night had given 15th-year head coach Alan Knipe the 300th win of his career.