LOS ANGELES - The University of California San Diego defeated King University, 3-1, in non-conference men's volleyball action Saturday evening at UCLA's John Wooden Center. Game scores were 25-19, 25-23, 26-28 and 25-18.
The contest rounded out UC San Diego's perfect involvement in the two-day, four-team Wooden Classic Tournament. The Tritons are now 2-0 for the first time since beginning the 1996 campaign at 6-0.
King, which had topped McKendree (IL) earlier in the day, 3-1, dropped to 1-2 on the young season. The Tornado, like the Tritons, are an NCAA Division II member, located in Bristol, Tenn., and competing out of Conference Carolinas. Saturday marked the first-ever meeting between the sides.
Senior opposite Tanner Syftestad totaled 20-plus kills for the second time in as many nights, finishing with a match-high 22 on .356 hitting (22-6-45) to reach 49 already on the year. He added seven digs, four total blocks, two service aces and an assist. Sophomore libero Ryan Lew shared the match high with his 13 digs. Senior setter Milosh Stojcic had 36 assists, four digs, two kills and an ace.
As a team, UCSD hit a solid .342 (54-15-114), served eight aces and procured a hefty advantage at the net with 11.5 total team blocks, to .186 (50-26-129), three and 7.0.
After taking a two-set lead, the Tritons trailed 17-10 in the third before rallying to level the score at 24-24. King ultimately pulled that game out to remain alive, but UC San Diego was able to rally again to close out the victory in the next frame.
In the opening set, the Tritons came up with 5.5 total team blocks, with one solo and nine assists, to none by the Tornado. They also served a pair of aces and took advantage of four King miscues from the service line. Syftestad collected his first four kills of the evening, on 11 swings without an error (.364). UCSD got out to a 5-1 advantage, and a solo stuff by senior captain Alec Flowers made it 16-12. Syftestad, senior middle Bryan Zhu (San Diego/Rancho Bernardo HS) and freshman Wyatt Harrison later combined on the Tritons' first triple block of 2018 in the middle of a five-point run that broke things open to 23-16.
The Tritons bolted out of a timeout and scored four in a row to break a 17-17 tie in the second. King turned back a pair of UCSD set points as Syftestad committed a service error, and then his first attack error of the night. He made up for it, however, with his 10th kill on the Tritons' third set-point opportunity.
"We're certainly excited about the victory tonight," said UC San Diego head coach Kevin Ring. "I thought we did a great job in the first two sets controlling the tempo, and served really well in the first. The second set, a little high in service errors. We let King stick around a little bit, but we did a nice job finishing it off in the end."
The Tritons called their first timeout down 11-5 in the third after a 4-0 run by King, the last three of those points coming on hitting errors. In the end they saved four set points, but not the fifth.
UCSD trailed 6-4 and 9-6 in the fourth and hung around in that area for a little while before mounting its decisive final rally. A 5-0 run around a King timeout turned a 14-12 deficit into a 17-14 lead which the Tritons would not relinquish. Syftestad's 20th kill of the contest gave them that 17-14 edge. A Sean Kohlhase kill gave the Tornado a brief respite before UCSD effectively ended the drama with the next five. Luke McDonald served the last four of those, punctuated by back-to-back aces.
"Set three, a lot to be a little frustrated with, and a lot to be excited about," continued Ring. "We fell in an early hole, and then we dug ourselves into an even bigger one, but we didn't hang our heads, and the guys kept fighting. We actually had a shot at winning that set even after being behind so much. I think that was really key for us and for our mindset, and getting ourselves back into playing some good volleyball as we finished out the third, even though it ended up being a loss. That set us up for the fourth. I thought we played kind of back and forth, back and forth. We got great production from Nathan Thalken from the service line. He went on a great run. And the same for serving sub Luke McDonald, who came in and served really well down the stretch. That was great to see."
Flowers and Harrison contributed eight kills apiece, and Zhu and Nathan Thalken seven each. Flowers was an errorless .667 (8-0-12) with a remarkable three solo stuffs among five blocks, while Zhu hit at a .385 (7-2-13) clip and got to six blocks to lead all players. Thalken had seven digs, and sophomore setter Connor Walbrecht a career-best 13 assists off the bench.
Kiel Bell paced King with 17 kills and completed his double-double with 13 digs.
"It was a full team effort tonight, to hit .342, with 11.5 blocks," concluded Ring. "We're getting it done offensively, and I thought we did a good job blocking as well.
"It's a nice start to the season. I think the guys have a good perspective. We're excited about the two victories, but we are also very realistic, and realize we have a lot to learn and a lot to improve upon as we head into the remainder of the season. As much as you practice and try to get better, things are always more eye-opening when you play an outside opponent. We got a good look (this weekend) at what are our weaknesses, and what do we need to get better at."
UC San Diego is now set for its 2018 home opener in a one-match week ahead, welcoming in UC Merced on Thursday, Jan. 11. First serve inside RIMAC Arena on North Campus in La Jolla is set for 6 p.m. UCSD students are admitted free of charge.
Triton Notes: Tanner Syftestad now has 39 matches in double-digit kills as a Triton, and nine with 20 or more, including two straight to begin his senior season ... Syftestad's 22 kills give him 872 for his career, still 10th all-time at UCSD, as he vies to become just the sixth Triton men's volleyball player to reach the 1000-kill milestone ... Syftestad's 45 attacks give him 2190 for his career, moving him up from ninth to eighth, with two more aces increasing his total to 62, now tied for eighth ... Saturday's match marked Alec Flowers' first with more than a single solo block ... Flowers' three solo blocks were the most by a Triton since Sebastian Brady also was credited with three in a five-set home loss to Pacific on April 5, 2013.