The UC San Diego men's volleyball team heads into the final two weeks of its 2014 season. The Tritons continue a season-long six-match homestand this weekend, hosting two-time defending national champion and seventh-ranked UC Irvine in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) contest on Friday, April 4. They then welcome UC Merced in one final non-conference match for 2014 on Saturday, April 5. First serve at RIMAC Arena on both nights is set for 7 p.m.
UCSD students are admitted free to all regular-season home volleyball matches. General admission tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for visiting students, seniors and UCSD Alumni Association members. Tickets are available at the main entrance to RIMAC Arena on the night of the match.
Once again this season, all UCSD home matches inside RIMAC Arena feature a live online video stream with public-address audio. The video is free, but a registration and login are required. A majority of road matches also have video. All contests, home and away, have live stats. Fans can access live coverage from the Schedule/Results page. Follow @UCSDtritons for in-match Twitter updates throughout the season.
ABOUT THE ANTEATERS
No. 7 UC Irvine (16-9, 13-8 MPSF) won a pair of home matches last week, 3-1 over Cal State Northridge and 3-0 against Long Beach State. The Anteaters are 9-7 on the road in 2014. Junior opposite Zack La Cavera and senior outside hitter Jeremy Dejno have put down 270 kills apiece, while La Cavera also leads with 30 service aces. Junior libero Michael Brinkley has compiled 233 digs. Senior middle blocker Collin Mehring averages 1.10 blocks per set, with an even 100 for the year. David Kniffin is in his second year in charge at UC Irvine, having guided the 'Eaters to the 2013 national crown in his first go-around.
UC Irvine leads the all-time series, 36-10, and has taken the last six meetings dating back to a 3-1 Triton triumph in Irvine on Jan. 12, 2011. The Anteaters won in straight sets in this season's first meeting in Irvine on Jan. 31. Previously, they pulled out a five-set thriller at the Bren Events Center after UCSD had taken the first two frames on March 31, 2013. Scores were 23-25, 21-25, 25-13, 25-21 and 15-10.
ABOUT THE BOBCATS
The UC Merced (4-12) men's volleyball program is rounding out its very first season in existence. Saturday night will mark the 2014 season finale for the independent Bobcats. Located in Merced, the university was founded in 2005. UC Merced is 2-9 away from home this year, and is coming off of a 1-2 showing at the Johnson & Wales Tournament in Denver, Colo., March 15-16. In their most recent victory, 3-0 over Cincinnati Christian University at that tournament, the Bobcats were led by freshman middle Samuel Hala'ufia's nine kills on .750 hitting (9-0-12), and Daniel Sabzehzar's eight kills. David Noble is in his first season at the helm of the Bobcats.
Saturday will mark the first-ever meeting between these programs.
Senior Mike Brunsting (Poway/Francis Parker School) has produced three double-doubles for his career. Most recently, he put down a career-high 18 kills to go along with 10 digs in UCSD's 3-2 triumph at home over Grand Canyon on Feb. 28. Previous double-doubles came on Jan. 14, 2012 vs. NJIT (55 assists and 12 digs) in Phoenix, Ariz., and Feb. 8, 2013 at Pacific (46 assists and 15 digs). Junior setter Garrett Dempsey is the only other Triton with a double-double, having registered 50 assists and a career-high 11 digs in a five-set home win over California Baptist on March 13. The 50 assists matched his career best.
TANNER HOWARD: TEAM MANAGER TO STARTING LIBERO
Redshirt freshman Tanner Howard made his first appearance in a Triton uniform at libero and handled a match-high 16 digs in the five-set home win over Grand Canyon on Feb. 28. With multiple liberos out of action, the native of Pismo Beach found himself on the roster officially on Feb. 27, and on the court when the first serve went up the following night. Howard was the team manager as a true freshman in 2013, and was serving in that capacity again this season before fate called his number. In addition to the digs, he put together a solid passing game with zero reception errors in 27 opportunities, and added three assists. Howard contributed a team-high six digs the following night vs. UCSB, and reached double figures again with 10 in the five-set home win over CBU (3/13), with a season-high four assists. He then posted a season- and match-high 19 digs in the five-set home loss to Cal State Northridge on March 29, the highest single-match total for a Triton since former libero Chase Frishman reached that total on March 30, 2012.
Twice this season, on March 3 and March 31, Howard earned Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. National Freshman of the Week honorable mention ... With his 39 assists against Cal State Northridge on March 29, Brunsting moved up from No. 8 to No. 7 on the all-time Triton list, now with 1,631 career assists ... A program-high seven Tritons earned MPSF All-Academic distinction in 2013, including returners Brunsting, now a two-time selection, Dempsey and senior Fred Stahl ... Through matches played on March 30, Dempsey ranks 10th in the MPSF in assists (8.66/set) and Brunsting 15th (2.59/set) ... UCSD played only twice at home over its first 11 matches ... The Tritons are at home for 11 of their last 16 contests. ... UCSD was picked to finish 12th in the 2014 MPSF race in the conference's preseason coaches' poll, with reigning MPSF champion BYU and 2013 league runner-up Long Beach State joint favorites.
Brunsting has a team-best eight matches this year in double-digit kills. He provided a career-high 18 kills vs. GCU (2/28), 17 vs. Pepperdine (2/15) and 16 in the win vs. CBU (3/13). Brunsting had a match-high 11 kills at No. 3 BYU (3/15). Senior outside hitter Nick Iorfino has five matches with double-digit kills (19 career), with a season-best 18 vs. CSUN (3/29) and a match-high 12 at Hawai'i (1/26). Awerkamp has four (15 career), with a season-high 20 kills vs. CBU after having put down 18 at CBU (1/16). The other double-digit efforts in kills in 2014 have come from redshirt junior Scot Metzger (career-high 17 at UOP), redshirt freshman middle blocker Mathew Schnitzer (13 at CBU), and redshirt sophomore outside hitters Eric Barber (career-high 10 at CSUN and vs. GCU) and Kirill Rudenko (12 vs. GCU). Brunsting (11 at UOP; 10 vs. GCU, 2/28), Dempsey (11 vs. CBU) and liberos Howard (19 vs. CSUN; 16 vs. GCU; 10 vs. CBU), Elliott Shaw (10 vs. PEP) and Griffin Galvin (10 at CSUN) have each reached double figures in digs.
With Awerkamp's return to the lineup at UC Santa Barbara on March 7, Brunsting played in his third position for his fourth and final season of college volleyball. He began the year as the Tritons' starting setter before Awerkamp's injury vs. BYU on Jan. 18 forced him back to a spot in which he had played sparingly in the past, opposite hitter. In Santa Barbara, Brunsting started at outside hitter, with Dempsey at setter and Awerkamp at opposite.
FIRST WIN OVER 'LOPES
UCSD made its way into the win column at home against non-conference opponent Grand Canyon on Friday night, Feb. 28. Scores in the five-setter were 30-28, 17-25, 25-20, 16-25, 15-6. Three Tritons made it into double-figure kills in Brunsting (18), Rudenko (12) and Barber (10), all eclipsing or matching their career highs. Brunsting completed his double-double with 10 digs, while Howard came up with a match-high 16 digs in his college debut at libero.
FIRST LEAGUE TRIUMPH OVER CBU
The Tritons produced their first MPSF victory of 2014 on Thursday, March 13, at home against California Baptist. UCSD overturned a 2-1 deficit in sets, ultimately outlasting the Lancers, 25-20, 20-25, 23-25, 27-25, 15-10. Awerkamp collected his team-best 20th kill on match point, while Brunsting added 16 kills and a career-high five service aces, three of which came during a decisive 7-0 run in the fifth set. Dempsey achieved his first double-double, with 50 assists and a career-best 11 digs. Howard added 10 digs of his own.
LAST TIME OUT
UCSD dropped a pair of MPSF contests at home last weekend, falling in straight sets to No. 4 Long Beach State on March 27, before succumbing to Cal State Northridge in five frames two nights later. In his first return to the court since Feb. 21, Iorfino collected a team-high 18 kills against the Matadors, with Awerkamp adding 11 kills off the bench and Howard getting to a season-high 19 digs to lead all players.
REPEAT BEST-EVER SHOWING AT ASICS INVITE
For the second straight year and fourth time in the last five, UCSD opened its season at the annual UC Santa Barbara Asics Invitational. With a format change and 10 teams present for the 50th installment, the Tritons came away with a second successive best-ever fourth-place effort. UCSD went 2-2 in best-of-three-set pool-play exhibitions on Jan. 3, with those contests not counting against overall records. The Tritons were the only squad to take a set that day off of eventual tourney champion Long Beach State. On tiebreakers, UCSD placed second in Pool B and matched up with eighth-ranked host UCSB in the third-place match on Jan. 4, losing 3-0. Awerkamp was named to the All-Tournament Team. Eight Tritons made their college debuts.
Team tri-captains for the 2014 season were designated as Awerkamp, Brunsting and Metzger. All three veteran Tritons are first-time captains.
UCSD returns 10 players, including two redshirt freshmen and one injury redshirt (Metzger), from the 2013 campaign. Among the contingent back are Brunsting and Dempsey at the setter position. Awerkamp and Iorfino are two of UCSD's top attackers. Stahl was 12th in the league at 1.04 blocks per set as a junior middle in 2013.
The 2014 roster includes 11 new players to the program with no prior collegiate experience. Seven members of that group have earned their debuts. Most recently, Howard appeared for the first time vs. GCU (2/28) and Shayne Beamer vs. UCLA (1/30). Jackson Wopat, like Beamer a freshman middle blocker, is the younger brother of Carly Wopat, who completed her senior season at Stanford in December as a two-time AVCA first-team All-American. Wopat made his first career appearance in his hometown at UC Santa Barbara (Dos Pueblos HS) on Jan. 4. In addition to Poway product Brunsting, one other San Diego native is freshman middle Bryan Zhu, a graduate of Rancho Bernardo High School.
HEAD COACH KEVIN RING
Kevin Ring is in his ninth season in charge at his alma mater. The 2009 MPSF Coach of the Year, he has a 68-185 overall record at the helm. Before being elevated to the head-coaching position on June 15, 2005, Ring spent the previous nine years as an assistant for the UCSD men's squad. He got his start at UCSD as the men's volleyball team manager from 1989-91 before playing for the Tritons for three seasons. Ring was the full-time manager for the USA men's national team from 1991-93 and continued on as a technical advisor through 1996. He accompanied Team USA to the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona and the 1996 Games in Atlanta. The 1992 squad left Spain with a bronze medal. To this day, Ring maintains strong ties to USA Volleyball, as he has been aiding women's national team head coach Karch Kiraly and his staff in preparing Team USA for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
UCSD Athletics has partnered with Advanced-Online to provide a web-based, on-demand option for UCSD apparel and merchandise. Fans have access to over 600 products that can be processed and shipped within 24 hours. Visit the site at UCSDTritonsGear.com.
UCSD concludes both this season-long six-match homestand and its 2014 campaign next weekend, hosting a pair of MPSF foes from Northern California in Pacific on Friday, April 11, and No. 4 Stanford the following night on Senior Night. First serve at RIMAC Arena for both contests is set for 7 p.m.