The UC San Diego men's volleyball team opens the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) portion of its 2014 schedule with a pair of tough road dates this weekend at top-ranked opponents. The Tritons first visit No. 5 USC at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Friday, Jan. 10, and then head over to Malibu to face No. 6 Pepperdine inside the Firestone Fieldhouse on Saturday, Jan. 11. First serve for both contests is set for 7 p.m.
Once again this season, all UCSD home matches inside RIMAC Arena will feature a live online video stream, with public-address audio. The video is free to view, but requires registration. A majority of road matches will also have video, including both on tap this weekend. USC's broadcast through the Pac-12 Networks portal, with commentary, and Pepperdine's Wavecasts, are free of charge. All contests, home and away, will have live stats. Fans can access all live coverage from the Schedule/Results page. Follow @UCSDtritons for in-match Twitter updates throughout the season, and @USCmensvolley and @PepperdineMVB this weekend.
ABOUT THE TROJANS
USC (1-0, 0-0 MPSF) won its 2014 opener last Saturday, 3-1, at then-seventh-ranked Loyola Chicago. The Trojans then had Sunday's meeting at No. 10 Lewis cancelled due to severe weather. The one result moved USC up from No. 11 to No. 5 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) rankings. Freshman outside hitter Lucas Yoder starred in his collegiate debut, putting down a match-high 16 kills on an impressive .609 hitting (16-2-23) to go along with five digs and three total blocks. The performance earned Yoder, who has extensive bloodlines in the Trojan system, both the season's first conference and national Player of the Week awards. Junior setter Micah Christenson posted match highs of 46 assists and 10 digs. Bill Ferguson is in his eighth year as the head coach at USC, which was picked to place eighth in the MPSF preseason poll.
USC leads the all-time series, 38-8. UCSD did, however, sweep the season series in 2013 for the first time in program history. The Tritons produced their first-ever three-set sweep of the Trojans at RIMAC Arena in both teams' 2013 conference opener on Jan. 10. That result snapped a seven-match win streak in the series for USC. UCSD then edged the Trojans in a thriller at USC's Lyon Center, 3-2, on March 16, out-blocking the home side, 20.0-13.0. Of the Tritons' eight all-time wins over the Trojans, four have come in Los Angeles.
ABOUT THE WAVES
No. 6 Pepperdine has yet to begin its 2014 campaign, and will do so this Friday, Jan. 10, at home against third-ranked and two-time defending national champion UC Irvine prior to welcoming UCSD into Firestone Fieldhouse the following night. The Waves, favored to place sixth in the MPSF race, went an even 2-2 in four exhibitions against Canadian opposition in the 2014 lead-up. Legendary head coach Marv Dunphy embarks on his 31st season in charge at Pepperdine.
Pepperdine leads the all-time series, 42-3, and has won four straight since a 3-2 Triton triumph in Malibu on March 12, 2011. UCSD had previously taken both ends of the 2010 season series. Both meetings in 2013 ended in sweeps for the Waves.
Following last Saturday's loss at UCSB, UCSD is now 3-6 in season openers under head coach Kevin Ring, including 1-5 outside of La Jolla ... The Tritons are 2-6 in MPSF openers with Ring at the helm, including 1-4 away from home ... UCSD is among five teams receiving votes just outside of the top 15 in the latest AVCA Division I-II Men's Poll, released on Jan. 6 ... The Tritons were also receiving votes in the AVCA preseason poll back on Dec. 11 ... 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 1,451 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).
TRITONS OPEN SEASON WITH 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. Through a format change and with 10 teams present for the 50th installment, the Tritons came away with a second successive best-ever fourth-place effort. UCSD went an even 2-2 in best-of-three-set pool-play exhibition tilts on Friday, Jan. 3, with those contests not counting against overall records. The Tritons were the only squad to win 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 Saturday's third-place match, ultimately suffering a 3-0 defeat to the Gauchos. Set scores were 25-23, 25-11, 25-16. Seniors Nick Iorfino and Johl Awerkamp collected seven and five kills, respectively, with Awerkamp being named to the All-Tournament Team. Ring used all 15 of his players in uniform, with eight making their official 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 at opposite and outside hitter, respectively. 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. Highlighting that group are Kirill Rudenko, an outside hitter out of Moscow, Russia with three years of college eligibility, freshmen liberos Griffin Galvin and Bryan Lee, and rookie middle blocker Jackson Wopat. All four made their collegiate debuts at UC Santa Barbara on Jan. 4. Wopat, out of Santa Barbara's Dos Pueblos High School, 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
Ring is in his ninth season in charge at his alma mater. The 2009 MPSF Coach of the Year, he has a 66-165 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.
Following this weekend's MPSF openers, the Tritons travel to Riverside to take on California Baptist next Thursday, Jan. 16. They will then finally contest their home opener on Saturday, Jan. 18, inside RIMAC Arena against 2013 national runner-up BYU. First serve for both matches is set for 7 p.m.