IRVINE, Calif. - The UC San Diego men’s volleyball team won the first two sets, only to see second-ranked defending national champion UC Irvine rally for a 3-2 triumph in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) match at the Bren Center Sunday. Set scores were 23-25, 21-25, 25-13, 25-21 and 15-10.
With the defeat in its road finale, UCSD fell to 7-18 overall and 4-16 in the MPSF. UC Irvine improved to 18-6 overall and 15-6 in conference action. The result meant a sweep of the season series for UCI as the then-top-ranked Anteaters had won the earlier meeting between the sides, 3-0, in La Jolla on Feb. 16.
The tough loss also meant the end of the Tritons’ faint hopes of attaining a first-ever berth into the eight-team MPSF Tournament, which runs Apr. 20-27.
“It was a good, competitive match with both teams playing really well at times,” remarked UCSD head coach Kevin Ring. “Irvine is a very strong team, and I felt like we kept their offense in check. We’ve had a few matches where teams have overpowered us offensively. Tonight, we managed to serve tough and block well at the net. We struggled in game three, but I liked that we fought through it and despite losing game four, we got ourselves back on track and played some good volleyball.
“Our challenge is to continue to put ourselves in tight game situations and find it within ourselves to make the necessary plays late in those games to turn the match in our favor.”
Carl Eberts, UCSD’s fifth-year senior outside hitter, turned in a team-high 12 kills to become just the fifth player in program history to reach the 1,000-kill plateau for his career, now with 1,002. The Huntington Beach native out of Edison High School joins former teammates Jason Spangler (1,491; 2007-10) and Frank Fritsch (1,403; 2007-10), as well as Jim Waller (1,301; 2001-04) and former Triton women’s volleyball head coach (2005-09) and current LMU women’s coach Tom Black (1,268; 1993-96).
“Hitting the 1,000-kill mark is such a tremendous accomplishment by Carl,” said his coach. “We’ve had many great players come through the Triton program, and Carl being just the fifth player to reach this mark shows how much he has meant here. What is great about Carl is that he is one of our best all-around players. It’s not just the offense that he provides.”
Eberts got to 1,000 when he put down back-to-back kills to give UCSD the lead momentarily at 6-4 in the decisive fifth set.
The Tritons extended that advantage to 7-4 on block assists by Eberts and junior middle blocker Sebastian Brady. They were still ahead by two, 9-7, when the Anteaters rolled off eight of the next nine points, including five straight, to complete their comeback. Each of the last three serves resulted in Colin Mehring kills.
UCI tallied first in the opening frame on a Connor Hughes kill, and the teams proceeded to trade points one-by-one from there through 5-5 until the Tritons took their first lead on a Mike Brunsting service ace. Three successive scores, punctuated by a Cheyne Hayes kill, pushed UCSD ahead, 10-8. Back-to-back Anteater errors gave the Tritons a three-point cushion at 12-9, increasing to 14-10 a short time later on the first blocks by either side on the evening with Brunsting and senior middle Greg Smith combining.
A run of four straight points by the home side leveled matters at 14-14 and forced UCSD into the first timeout of the match. Coming out of the break, a Scott Kevorken kill gave the ‘Eaters the lead back at 15-14.
A Brady kill, bad set, stuff block by Brady and Nick Iorfino and Eberts ace turned an 18-16 deficit into a 20-18 advantage for UCSD as UCI called for time.
Knotted at 22-22, the Tritons produced three of the next four points on an Iorfino kill, UCI hitting error and combo block by Brunsting and Smith to close out the set.
UCSD led 14-9 in the second stanza following a string of five straight points to break a 9-9 deadlock. Combination blocks came on three successive rallies around an Anteater timeout, with Hayes and Smith teaming up all three times.
Three more points in a row on kills by Smith, Brunsting and Iorfino made it 17-11. The ‘Eaters nudged back to within two at 21-19, but a couple of service errors eventually got UCSD to set point, and Iorfino’s kill brought the second game.
A triple block by Hayes, Smith and Iorfino got things going at 2-1 for the Tritons early in the third. A seven-point UC Irvine run turned a 3-3 tie into a 10-3 bulge, however, as the Anteaters cruised to the game-three win.
Up 3-2 in the fourth, UCSD surrendered five consecutive points to face a 7-3 deficit. Three more points in a row made it 11-5 a short time later. The Tritons went down by as many as eight before clawing back to 23-20, but were unable to make up the difference, necessitating the fifth set.
That final frame had started promisingly for the Tritons with another triple block, this one by Eberts, Brady and Hayes.
Iorfino joined Eberts in double-figure kills with 10. Hayes collected nine kills, six total blocks and a team-high nine digs. Smith added nine kills of his own to go along with a team- and season-high seven blocks. Brunsting compiled 41 assists, three kills, two aces, three digs and two blocks.
Hughes led all players with 17 kills for UC Irvine, while Kevorken had 11 kills and a match-high eight total blocks. Kevin Tillie managed nine kills and a match-high 15 digs off the bench.
The Tritons close out their 2013 season with four home dates over the next two weekends. UCSD welcomes in Pacific and Stanford on Friday, Apr. 5, and Saturday, Apr. 6. First serve for both contests is set for 7 p.m. inside RIMAC Arena.
“We have just a few remaining matches this season, and yet I still hope this one (at UCI) provides a spark with how we train and compete the next two weeks,” concluded Ring. “We should walk away from a match like this being really determined and not discouraged.”
Triton Notes: UCSD finished 2-10 in road matches in 2013, including 1-10 in the MPSF and 3-12 outside of La Jolla … The Tritons have lost five straight to UC Irvine since a 3-1 victory in Irvine on Jan. 12, 2011 … Carl Eberts turned in the 53rd performance of his career with double-digit kills, and team-leading 14th this season … Chase Frishman’s eight digs increased his career total to 635, second-most in the program record book … Nick Iorfino reached double figures in kills for the eighth time in 2013 and 13th time in his career … UCSD hit .409 (11-2-22) in tonight’s first game, the first time it attacked at a .400-or-better clip since the second set (.478, 14-3-23) of a 3-0 home sweep of UC Santa Barbara on Feb. 15 … Greg Smith’s seven blocks matched his single-match career high from Jan. 6, 2012, at Hawai’i.