PHOENIX - The University of California San Diego survived a game squad from Ottawa University Arizona, 3-1, in a non-conference men's volleyball match inside Antelope Gymnasium on the campus of Grand Canyon University on Saturday afternoon. Set scores were 23-25, 30-28, 26-24 and 25-16.
With the weekend split in Phoenix, Ariz., after Friday night's 3-1 loss at No. 11 Grand Canyon, UC San Diego moves to 6-2 overall. The Tritons have equaled the best eight-match start in program history, having started 6-0 en route to a 6-2 early mark back in 1996. Ottawa fell to an even 3-3. It was the first-ever meeting between the sides.
Having relinquished the first set, UC San Diego faced two set points in the second and one in the third, that after trailing 21-17, and managed to prevail in both before cruising in the fourth.
Senior opposite and tri-captain Tanner Syftestad produced the match high in kills for the seventh time in the Tritons' eight matches in 2018, as he wound up equaling his season best of 27. That was on 50 total attacks, with a solitary error, for a season-best .520 hitting clip.
Ottawa led for much of set one after tallying the initial point, extending to as big as a five-point advantage at 11-6. The Tritons rattled off a stretch of eight out of 11 points, to finally level matters again at 14-14 on a Luke La Mont kill. Syftestad, the national leader in kills per set heading in, notched his first kill of the afternoon just before La Mont's equalizer. Syftestad's second kill came moments later to give UC San Diego its first lead of the contest, at 16-15. A combination block by La Mont and Alec Flowers punctuated a second 3-0 mini-run by the Tritons and gave them their first two-point edge. The score was tied, however, at 17-17, 18-18, 19-19, 20-20 and 21-21 before a Timothy Gerdes service ace forced UCSD into its first timeout, down one.
Despite a pair of Syftestad kills around the Tritons' second timeout, the Spirit were able to pry the set away on two Kory Peterson kills around an awry UCSD attack.
The teams traded 3-0 runs after Ottawa grabbed the first point again in the second, and the frame remained close. Another three-point stretch gave the Tritons back a 14-12 edge, but that was soon wiped away. Consecutive Syftestad kills broke a 17-17 tie and caused Ottawa to call its first timeout of the match. A 4-0 Ottawa run around a UCSD timeout was followed by a 3-0 Triton stretch and the Spirit's second timeout, chasing a point at 22-21.
Back-to-back stuff blocks by Syftestad and Drew Sloane were followed by the match's first triple block by La Mont, Sloane and Syftestad. That gave the Tritons their match high of five straight points, and their first lead all day of more than two, at 24-21. They squandered three straight set points, however, as Ottawa connected on three kills in a row, and had to call a second timeout.
On their sixth set point, having also fended off a pair of those, UC San Diego finally evened the match at 1-1 on Syftestad's match-best 15th kill. Through those first two games, he had still not committed an error on 29 swings for a .517 clip.
In a tight third, three Syftestad kills around a Sloane hitting error moved the Tritons ahead, 12-11, but Ottawa grabbed the next three, the final one via triple block by Peterson, Seth Golleher and James Yanher, and UCSD called for time down 14-12. Syftestad made his first attacking error on his 35th attempt to give OUAZ its largest lead of the frame at 16-13, but after a Spirit service error, made up for it with his first ace of the day. A Bryan Zhu (San Diego/Rancho Bernardo HS) solo block rounded out a 4-0 UCSD run to break a 16-16 tie, but Ottawa tallied the next four, on two Yanher kills around two Peterson kills, and the Tritons used their final timeout.
Despite surrendering the next point to face a 21-17 deficit, and later a single set point at 24-23, UC San Diego managed to squeeze out the set thanks to three Spirit errors.
The Tritons stormed out of the gate with the first five points of the fourth, the last on a stuff block by Sloane and Syftestad, forcing an early timeout. Sloane and Syftestad partnered again out of the break, and Sloane's kill made it a 7-0 bulge. Combo blocks by Sloane and Milosh Stojcic grew that cushion to as big as 10 at 16-6, and UCSD brought it home from there.
"We weren't playing our best volleyball, but we found ways to be gritty and fight through it," remarked UC San Diego head coach Kevin Ring, who notched his 90th career win. "We were fortunate to get through that second set with the victory. In the third, tactically, we had Milosh (Stojcic) serving short. His short serve gave (Ottawa) a different look, and I think it took them some plays to figure out how to get out of it. They kind of struggled with the pass and how to run their offense out of that. That really helped us in the third set, and then we started with Milosh serving in the fourth, and picked up right where we left off with the short serve. That set the tone, and we got off to a good early start in the fourth."
Syftestad added a team-high 12 digs for his second double-double in his last three matches, and third of his career. He also equaled his season high with seven blocks. Sloane was even better at the net, compiling a match- and career-high 10 total blocks, with one solo and nine assists, on top of five kills. Thalken contributed eight kills and also reached double-figure digs with 10. Stojcic had 41 assists, nine digs, two kills and two blocks. UCSD as a team out-blocked OUAZ, 14.5-7.5, and hit .341 (54-12-123).
Peterson (19), Yanher (15) and Quentin Campbell (15) hit double figures in kills for OUAZ. Joaquin Santa Cruz had a match-high 13 digs, with Peterson and Campbell at 10 apiece for double-doubles. Setter Andrew De'Leon dished out 44 assists.
UC San Diego returns to La Jolla on Saturday evening and heads into a three-match homestand beginning Wednesday night, Jan. 31, against Princeton. First serve inside RIMAC Arena on North Campus is set for 6 p.m.
Triton Notes: Tanner Syftestad's 27 kills give him 974 for his career, lifting him from ninth to seventh all-time at UC San Diego, as he moves toward becoming just the sixth Triton men's volleyball player to reach the 1000-kill milestone ... Syftestad's 50 attacks give him 2396 for his career, still seventh all-time ... Syftestad's one ace gives him 69, still sixth in the record book ... Syftestad has 44 career matches in double-figure kills, now with 12 of the 20-plus variety, including five in 2018 and three in a row ... Milosh Stojcic's 41 assists give him 2072 for his four-year career, sixth all-time ... UC San Diego head coach Kevin Ring changed his starting lineup after beginning each of the previous four matches with the same seven ... Today's second set was UCSD's longest by point this season, surpassing its 29-27 set-three win over McKendree in the opener on Jan. 5 ... Syftestad fell narrowly short of his career-best .583 hitting rate (16-2-24) from a home sweep of Holy Names his freshman year on Feb. 25, 2015 ... The only other times that UC San Diego has been at .500 or better at the eight-match mark were 2004 (4-4), 1996 (6-2) and 1989 (5-3) ... Drew Sloane is the first Triton to produce double-digit blocks in a match since senior teammate Bryan Zhu, who also finished with one solo and nine assists for 10 total blocks in a 3-0 loss at Stanford on March 13, 2015.