The UC San Diego men's volleyball team is home for a pair of matches this week. The Tritons briefly dip out of Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) action on Friday night, Feb. 28, hosting Grand Canyon University. They then resume league play on Saturday, March 1, against No. 6 UC Santa Barbara. First serve for both matches inside RIMAC Arena 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 ANTELOPES
Grand Canyon (6-9), from Phoenix, Ariz., is new to the NCAA Division I, having previously been a fellow Division II foe of UCSD. The Antelopes are still searching for their first Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) victory of the season, currently at 0-6. The 'Lopes have lost four straight, all in conference action, with back-to-back three-set defeats to both top-ranked Loyola Chicago at home two weeks ago and at Ohio State last weekend. They conclude their two-match California trip at Hope International in Fullerton on Saturday. Senior outside hitter Ben Ponnet, a native of Belgium, leads Grand Canyon offensively at 3.46 kills per set and 14 service aces. Junior libero Jared Morrison averages 2.49 digs per set. Senior Keith Smith (10.1 assists/set) is the regular setter. Jeremy Price is in his fourth season as the GCU head coach.
The all-time series between UCSD and GCU is even at 1-1. The teams last faced off in Phoenix, Ariz., on Jan. 15, 2012, with the host Antelopes procuring the 3-0 win. Set scores were 25-21, 25-21, 25-19. UCSD previously blanked GCU, 3-0, in La Jolla in its 2009 season finale on April 18. Set scores in that one were 30-12, 30-20, 30-20 before the format change in the college game, with the Tritons ranked No. 10 nationally at the time.
ABOUT THE GAUCHOS
No. 6 UC Santa Barbara (9-4, 8-4 MPSF) has won four of its last five and will play at No. 9 UC Irvine on Friday prior to heading further south to La Jolla the next night. The Gauchos split a road pair last weekend, falling 3-0 at Stanford before sweeping Pacific in Stockton. They are 2-3 on the road in 2014. Junior outside hitter Austin Kingi leads in kills at 3.12 per set. Jonah Seif dishes out 10.14 assists per set, eighth in the MPSF. The sophomore setter is also first on the team in aces (16) and second in digs (93). Junior middle blocker Jake Staahl is fifth in the league at 1.30 blocks per set. Vaun Lennon, who played the last three seasons at UCSD, appears as a senior outside hitter on the 2014 UCSB roster, but is redshirting the year. Rick McLaughlin is in his sixth season as the Gaucho head coach.
UCSB leads the all-time series, 30-8. The Gauchos blanked UCSD in the third-place match at their own Asics Invitational to begin the season back on Jan. 4. The teams will complete their 2014 home-and-home set in Santa Barbara next Friday, March 7. The 2013 season saw a split as UCSB won 3-1 at home, with UCSD cruising to a straight-set demolition in La Jolla of the then-15th-ranked Gauchos in just 71 minutes. UCSB was swept in its two meetings with the Tritons in 2012, both contests coming during UCSD's five-match MPSF win streak late in the year. The Gauchos dropped a 3-1 decision at home before falling at RIMAC on March 31 by the score of 3-0. The Tritons have knocked off the Gauchos in seven of their last 14 meetings, with a pair of season sweeps in 2009 and 2012. UCSD has won two in a row at home over UCSB, both 3-0.
Senior Mike Brunsting (Poway/Francis Parker School) is No. 8 on the all-time Triton list with 1,585 career assists ... A program-high seven Tritons earned MPSF All-Academic distinction in 2013, including returners Brunsting, now a two-time selection, junior Garrett Dempsey and senior Fred Stahl ... Through matches played on Feb. 23, Dempsey ranks 10th in the MPSF in assists (8.79/set) and Brunsting is 13th (3.32/set) ... Brunsting is the only current UCSD player with a double-double, with two for his career (1/14/12 vs. NJIT: 55 assists and 12 digs; 2/8/13 at UOP: 46 assists and 15 digs) ... UCSD played only twice at home over its first 11 matches ... The Tritons are 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 and senior outside hitter Nick Iorfino have a team-best four performances apiece on the year in double-digit kills. Following his recent move from starting setter to opposite hitter, Brunsting produced a career-high 17 kills vs. Pepperdine (2/15) after going for 12 vs. USC (2/14). He had a team-high 12 at Cal State Northridge (2/19) and 11 vs. UCLA (1/30). Iorfino had a season-best 14 kills at Pacific (2/8), 12 at California Baptist (1/16), a match-high 12 more at Hawai'i (1/26) and 11 vs. UCLA (1/30). Johl Awerkamp, himself a senior opposite, has two, with a season-high 18 kills at CBU. Iorfino and Awerkamp have 18 and 14 such matches, respectively, for their Triton careers. The only other double-digit efforts in kills so far in 2014 have come from redshirt junior Scot Metzger with a career-high 17 at Pacific, redshirt freshman middle blocker Mathew Schnitzer with 13 vs. CBU, and redshirt sophomore outside hitter Eric Barber with a career-best 10 at CSUN. Brunsting (11 at UOP, 2/8) and liberos Elliott Shaw (10 vs. PEP, 2/15) and Griffin Galvin (10 at CSUN, 2/19) have each reached the double-figure mark in digs.
LAST TIME OUT
UCSD lost in straight sets on the road at then-15th-ranked Cal State Northridge (25-20, 25-21, 25-21) last Wednesday, Feb. 19, and then-sixth-ranked preseason league co-favorite Long Beach State (25-11, 25-15, 25-16) on Friday. Brunsting and Barber posted 12 and 10 kills, respectively, at CSUN, with Galvin, a true freshman, collecting a match- and career-high 10 digs. LBSU hit .493, had seven aces to none by UCSD and out-blocked the Tritons, 9.0-1.0.
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, including nine freshmen. Six members of that group have earned their collegiate debuts. Most recently, Shayne Beamer appeared vs. UCLA (1/30). Fellow freshman middle blocker Jackson Wopat 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 66-179 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.
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After this home weekend, UCSD is on the road the following week, completing its home-and-home with UC Santa Barbara on Friday, March 7, before taking on No. 3 UCLA inside Pauley Pavilion the next night. Both contests have 7 p.m. start times.