The UC San Diego men's volleyball team faces a difficult split-venue week in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) play. The Tritons welcome top-ranked UCLA into RIMAC Arena on Thursday, Jan. 30, before making the short trip north to take on eighth-ranked two-time defending national champion UC Irvine on Friday, Jan. 31. FIrst serve for both marquee tilts 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 will also have video, though Friday's at UCI will not. 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, and @UCLAMensVB and @UCIMVB this week.
ABOUT THE BRUINS
No. 1 UCLA (7-1, 4-0 MPSF) has won seven straight, including the last four at home to begin conference play. The past three have all been three-set sweeps, including a defeat of two-time defending national champion UC Irvine on Monday night. The Bruins and Anteaters will meet again in Irvine on Saturday night after UCLA pays RIMAC Arena a visit. The Bruins, who embark on a four-match road swing Thursday, ascended to the AVCA poll's top spot earlier Monday, up from No. 3 the previous week. They share the No. 1 ranking with Loyola University Chicago. Senior middle Spencer Rowe, the older brother of Sophie Rowe, a standout junior-to-be on the UCSD women's volleyball team, leads the Bruins with 27 total blocks (0.90/set). John Speraw, the current head coach of the U.S. men's national team, is in his second season in charge at his alma mater after 10 at UC Irvine, where he guided the Anteaters to three national championships over a six-year span, including the 2012 crown.
UCLA leads the all-time series, 53-6, though UCSD is 6-9 against the Bruins over the last 15 meetings since 2008. UCLA came out on top in all three meetings a year ago, snapping a streak of five consecutive seasons with at least one Triton victory. In 2013, the Bruins defeated the Tritons 3-2 at the Asics Invitational in Santa Barbara on Jan. 4, 3-0 at Pauley Pavilion on Feb. 2, and 3-0 again in La Jolla on March 29. UCSD last won 3-1 inside RIMAC Arena on March 30, 2012.
ABOUT THE ANTEATERS
No. 8 UC Irvine (5-5, 2-4 MPSF) is the two-time defending national champion. Prior to Monday's loss at UCLA, the Anteaters fought off three match points in the fifth set for a league win at UCSB last Saturday, going down 14-12 and 15-14 en route to a 17-15 outcome. Junior opposite Zack La Cavera served a career-high six aces, second-most in the conference this year and tied for second in UCI history. He posted 16 kills (.333), with five coming in the decisive set. 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, 35-10, and has won the last five meetings dating back to a 3-1 Triton triumph in Irvine on Jan. 12, 2011. The Anteaters pulled out a five-set thriller at the Bren Events Center after UCSD had taken the first two frames in the most recent match-up on March 31, 2013. Scores were 23-25, 21-25, 25-13, 25-21 and 15-10.
UCSD is still in the midst of a season-opening stretch of nine of its first 11 matches away from home ... The Tritons have played just once at home over their first seven ... After being listed among several teams receiving votes just outside of the top 15 in the first three AVCA national polls, including the preseason edition, UCSD has not appeared the last two weeks ... 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 ... Senior setter Mike Brunsting (Poway/Francis Parker School) is No. 8 on the all-time Triton list with 1,564 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 ... 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).
Senior opposite Johl Awerkamp and senior outside hitter Nick Iorfino have a team-best two double-digit kills performances on the year. Awerkamp put down a season-high 18 vs. BYU (1/18), and has 14 such matches for his Triton career. He earlier produced a career-high five total blocks at USC (1/10). Iorfino contributed 12 kills vs. BYU and a match-high 12 more at Hawai'i (1/26). He has reached double figures 16 times in all. The only other double-digit kills effort so far in 2014 has come from redshirt freshman middle blocker Mathew Schnitzer, with 13 against BYU.
LAST TIME OUT
UCSD was swept twice at then-10th-ranked Hawai'i last weekend. Iorfino's 12 kills on Sunday night led 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 fourth-year junior Scot 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 12 new players to the program, including 11 freshmen. Six members of that group have earned their collegiate debuts thus far. Freshman middle blocker Jackson Wopat made his first appearance in his hometown (Dos Pueblos HS) at UC Santa Barbara on Jan. 4. He 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. In addition to 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 66-171 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.
After this week's activity, another two-match road set awaits the Tritons as they travel up to the Bay Area to battle Stanford on Friday, Feb. 7, and Pacific on Saturday, Feb. 8, both at 7 p.m.