LA JOLLA, Calif. - The University of California San Diego men's volleyball team rallied from early deficits in each of the first two frames and went on to sweep UC Santa Cruz, 3-0, in a non-conference tilt Friday night at RIMAC Arena. Set scores were 25-15, 25-22 and 25-16.
With the victory, UC San Diego improved to 4-1. UC Santa Cruz, ranked No. 8 in the preseason NCAA Division III poll, suffered its first loss in its 2018 road debut and fell to 6-1.
Alec Flowers and Tanner Syftestad, both senior tri-captains, led the way for UC San Diego. Flowers put down nine kills on 10 swings without an error for a career-best .900 attack percentage, and added a season-high six total blocks, two of them solo, both to lead all players. Syftestad, though hitting just .231, still managed match highs of 14 kills, four service aces and 19.5 points, adding three block assists and four digs.
UC San Diego trailed 2-0 and 6-3 out of the gate, but scored the next two, and after a Bryan Zhu (San Diego/Rancho Bernardo HS) service error, tallied five straight to jump ahead, 10-7. Syftestad served four of those points, bookended by his first two aces around one of his kills and one from Flowers. The first ace tied the score at 7-7.
Another sustained run, of six points around UC Santa Cruz's first timeout, put the frame out of reach at 22-13. Redshirt junior Luke McDonald entered the fray and served the final five of those, punctuated by an ace of his own. Flowers had one kill, a solo block and also combined on a denial with junior outside hitter Nathan Thalken during that late sequence, finishing the set with six kills on seven attempts. The Tritons notched the last three points, fittingly on two Flowers kills around a third ace by Syftestad. The duo set the tone with 15.5 points together.
The second set, like the first, saw UC Santa Cruz up by scores of 2-0 and 6-3, and in fact 7-3 after an awry Triton attack. That was all the home side would spot the opponent, however, and eventually, UCSD took its first lead of the game at 14-13. Zhu and senior tri-captain Luke La Mont teamed up on a block to break a 16-16 tie. Moments later came a triple block from La Mont, Syftestad and Zhu, for 19-17 in the middle of a 4-0 stretch. Syftestad's 10th kill of the night made it 23-21. Kills by Flowers and then Thalken put the Tritons in command at two sets to none.
A big combo block from Flowers and La Mont gave the Tritons a slim 5-4 edge early in game three. UC Santa Cruz grabbed the next two, but sophomore libero Ryan Lew dug a difficult ball to keep the following point alive, with a Banana Slug attack error tying the score at 6-6. Lew wound up with four digs in the contest.
Tied for a ninth and final time in the set, UC San Diego put together a pair of 4-0 runs around a Raymond Cascio kill, to surge ahead at 17-10. Syftestad's final ace came straight out of a UCSC timeout to round out that sequence. True freshman Bryce Curtis' lone kill of the evening, on his only swing, came on match point.
Thalken and Zhu had eight kills and two blocks apiece. Thalken added five digs while Zhu hit .583 (8-1-12). La Mont contributed five kills, six digs, three blocks and two assists. Senior setter Milosh Stojcic collected 33 assists and five digs.
Lake Merchen paced the Banana Slugs with 12 kills, six digs, one ace and a solo block. Fellow senior Ryan Manley had six kills and got to a match-high seven digs.
UC San Diego out-hit UC Santa Cruz, .348-.125, and compiled 9.5 total team blocks.
UC San Diego concludes a season-long four-match homestand, and a busy week of three home dates in five nights, on Saturday as Concordia (2-0) makes the short trip south from Irvine. First serve is set for 7 p.m. inside RIMAC Arena on North Campus in La Jolla. The Eagles upset No. 7 CSUN on the road on Friday night, 3-1.
Triton Notes: UC San Diego leads the all-time series, 17-8 ... The sides had not met in over a decade, since a Triton sweep in La Jolla in both teams' 2008 season opener ... Tanner Syftestad's 14 kills give him 902 for his career, still 10th all-time at UC San Diego, as he vies to become just the sixth Triton men's volleyball player to reach the 1000-kill milestone ... Syftestad's 26 attacks give him 2254 for his career, eighth all-time ... With four more aces, Syftestad now has 66 for his career, and moved up from a tie for eighth, into sole possession of seventh ... Those four aces tied Syftestad's high, having served that many three other times ... Milosh Stojcic's 33 assists give him 1945 for his four-year career, moving him up from seventh all-time to sixth, as he is close to becoming the sixth Triton ever to get to 2000 assists ... Alec Flowers has accounted for five of UCSD's nine solo blocks in 2018 ... UCSD is off to its best five-match start since opening 5-0 en route to winning its first six in 1996 ... The last time the Tritons were even above .500 after five matches was 2004, when they started 3-2 ... They were also 4-1 in 1989 ... The match was played in 73 minutes.