IRVINE, Calif. - The very first Big West Conference men's volleyball preseason poll was unveiled on Thursday afternoon, with the University of California San Diego picked by league head coaches to place sixth out of six teams.
The Big West has made men's volleyball its 18th sponsored sport beginning Jan. 3, 2018, with UC San Diego competing initially as an associate member before eventually joining in full, after 25 seasons in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF). The remaining five programs in the new league have also shifted from the MPSF, though all five are already permanent Big West members in other sports.
Long Beach State, the 2017 MPSF champion, is the favorite to win the first Big West championship, receiving four first-place votes and compiling 34 points. The Beach narrowly topped fellow 2017 MPSF finalist and national semifinalist Hawai'i with 32 points and the other two first-place nods. UC Irvine (21) and CSUN (21) tied for third ahead of UC Santa Barbara (10) and UC San Diego (eight).
All six Big West sides appear somewhere in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) preseason poll. Long Beach State is No. 2, with four of 25 first-place votes, and followed by Hawai'i at No. 5, UC Irvine at No. 7 and CSUN at No. 11. UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego are receiving votes just outside of the top 15.
As UC San Diego Men's Volleyball begins a brand-new era in 2018 in the Big West, 13th-year head coach Kevin Ring welcomes back his starting setter, Milosh Stojcic, primary libero, Ryan Lew, and senior opposite hitter Tanner Syftestad. Syftestad is coming off a spectacular junior campaign at the end of which he earned Off the Block's inaugural Division II National Player of the Year award, as well as VolleyballMag.com All-America honorable mention and All-MPSF Second Team selection. The three-time captain provided team bests of 366 kills (4.21 per set), 28 aces and 62 total blocks, to go along with 102 digs. Stojcic was the only Triton to start all 27 matches and produced 9.08 assists per set and 107 digs. As a true freshman, Lew paced the squad with 154 digs, averaging two per set.
Joining Syftestad as Triton tri-captains are fellow seniors Alec Flowers and Luke La Mont. Other key returners include middle blockers Bryan Zhu (San Diego/Rancho Bernardo HS) and Drew Sloane, and outside hitter Xander Jimenez. Wyatt Harrison, a freshman outside hitter from Kilauea, Hawaii, is a newcomer to watch. The roster includes 10 first-year Tritons in all.
UC San Diego went 7-20 overall and 3-15 in the MPSF a year ago, placing 11th out of 12 teams.
The Big West slate will feature the six squads playing 10 league contests each, or two against each opponent. Those matchups are of the home-and-home variety, with Hawai'i the exception, whereby those two meetings will both be either home or away from season to season on a rotational basis. The Tritons are headed to Honolulu, Hawaii, this year, March 30-31.
After a 2017 season in which it posted a five-match win streak that included wins at USC and at home against Princeton and CSUN, UC San Diego's 2018 schedule features 13 of 27 matches in La Jolla. The Tritons start the campaign at UCLA's Wooden Classic Tournament, and also travel to Phoenix, Ariz., with a mid-February trip to Lebanon, Ill., and St. Charles, Mo. Their home opener is against UC Merced on Thursday, Jan. 11, inside RIMAC Arena on North Campus at 6 p.m. Big West action begins Feb. 23 at UC Santa Barbara, with the Big West home opener against those same Gauchos on Friday, March 2. Both of those start times are 7 p.m.
2018 BIG WEST MEN'S VOLLEYBALL PRESEASON COACHES' POLL
1. #2 Long Beach State, 34 (4)
2. #5 Hawai'i, 32 (2)
T-3. #7 UC Irvine, 21
T-3. #11 CSUN, 21
5. RV UC Santa Barbara, 10
6. RV UC San Diego, 8