FloVolleyball Weekly Notebook: PSU Making Moves

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Another week into men’s volleyball season and there are plenty of surprising results and big-time performances to cover in this week’s edition of the NCAA men’s notebook. 

Highs & Lows For UCSD

Friday night, UC San Diego played host to No. 3 UCLA and shocked the Bruins, winning the match in straight sets. The Tritons hit a season-high .360 as a team to defeat UCLA for the first time since 2012 and just the fourth time in program history. Outside hitter Kyle McCauley, then the reigning national player of the week, led UCSD with 13 kills, and a combination of blocking and back-court defense as well as strong serving held UCLA to just a .179 team hitting percentage.

“It was an exciting win for the guys tonight, we’ve talked about some of our goals early on, beating top-ranked teams, and here’s the No. 3 team in the country, UCLA, coming into our gym,” UCSD head coach Kevin Ring said. “We also talked about really creating a lot of pride on our home court, and we had a great crowd tonight, the culmination of the spirit week, with a lot of good games, with our match on Wednesday a victory, and a couple of basketball victories.”

UCLA was without key players middle Daenan Gymiah and opposite Kevin Rattray, who only played in the first match of the season and has been out since.

“You can only play who’s in front of you, right?” Ring said. “We have a great deal of respect for UCLA, that program, the coaching staff, John Speraw, we know a lot of those players, we’ve seen them over the years, and they’re very good. The win is something that we can take some pride in.”

A little less than 24 hours later, however, UCSD lost to the MIVA’s Grand Canyon in four sets. Despite the loss, UCSD maintained a high level of offensive efficiency, hitting .340 for the match and getting 17 kills from McCauley, 11 from Shane Benetz, and 10 from Wyatt Harrison.

Grand Canyon sourced its advantage from behind the service line, finishing the match with seven aces to UCSD’s three. 

Penn State Making Moves

Penn State, which was ranked No. 14 in last week’s AVCA poll, had a fantastic weekend, winning road matches over then-No. 12 Loyola and No. 5 Lewis.

The victory over Loyola came in straight sets, but the first went all the way to 33-31 with Penn State having to stave off six Loyola set points. Brett Wildman led PSU with 14 kills, while Bobby Wilden and Jason Donorovich each had five blocks, and setter Cole Bogner finished the match with 37 assists. Penn State out-blocked Loyola 11 to three and out-served the Ramblers eight to three.

"The resiliency of this group really showed tonight,” PSU head coach Mark Pavlik said. “We were battling ourselves in that first set with our serve and some of the swings we had. Once we came back to win that first set, Brett [Wildman's] serve took over early in that second set and we really settled in from there.”

The match against Lewis required that Penn State rally back from down 0-2 to win in five. Like the Loyola match, the Saturday-night contest also featured a marathon set, with the second going in Lewis’ favor 38-36. 

It’s the first time since 2017 that Penn State has won after being down 0-2, and the Lions did it with 20 points from Wilden, who racked up 16 kills, three aces, and two blocks. Wildman once again led the offense with 17 kills, hitting .364. Libero Will Bantle had an almost flawless night, going 22-for-22 on serve receive and setting a career-high with 19 digs.

"We felt pretty good about our last 12-14 points in the second set and we preached to the guys to keep at it,” Pavlik said. “Lewis was coming off an emotional match last night against Hawaii and we thought the longer we hung around, the better off we'd be and that's how it played out.”

It’s the first time in program history that the Penn State men have scored road wins over Loyola and Lewis in the same season. It’s also the first upset of a top five team on the road for the Nittany Lions since 2010.

Pelegrin Vargas Earns National Player of the Year Honors

Purdue Fort Wayne’s star senior outside hitter Pelegrin Vargas was voted MIVA Preseason Player of the Year, but he missed the first weekend of the season to compete with the Puerto Rico national team in the Olympic qualifier.

In his 2020 season debut, he absolutely lived up to the hype, leading the Mastodons to a sweep of CSUN on the road. Vargas led Fort Wayne with 22 kills, hitting an incredible. 588. The next night, the team traveled to Santa Barbara to take on No. 4 UCSB and lost in straight sets, but Vargas still played out of his mind, hitting .512 with 12 kills, two aces, and a match-high eight digs. 

All that made him an obvious choice for AVCA national player of the week, which he was awarded on Tuesday.

Week 2 poll: Concordia in, Ohio State out

You have to feel for Ohio State. The Buckeyes opened the season with five wins in a row, and yet went from unranked in the preseason poll to No. 15 in Week 1 and now have been relegated to receiving votes in Week 2. 

The problem is, Ohio State has yet to play a single ranked team, but the team will get a chance to prove itself this weekend as it takes on USC and No. 6 UCLA in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge at Penn State. 

Replacing Ohio State in the top 15 is new No. 14 Concordia Irvine. The Eagles opened MPSF play with a sweep of USC last Thursday and are 3-2 overall. 

Hawaii, now 9-0, added four wins to its record in the past six days, making the most of a road trip around the Midwest and Southeast, and is still No. 1. BYU, now 7-0, remains No.2, but with the loss to UCSD, former No. 3 UCLA plummeted to No. 6. In the Bruins’ place, UCSB rose to No. 3.

With Long Beach State (4-0) at No. 4, the top four teams in the poll are all undefeated.

Penn State rose four to No. 10, while Lewis and Loyola each dropped, the Flyers to No. 7 and Loyola to No. 15. 

UC San Diego probably needs just one more big win to make it into the poll. As it stands, the Tritons trail No. 15 Loyola-Chicago, which has just one win in six matches so far this season, by just six points.

Upcoming NCAA men’s match on FloVolleyball:

Friday, January 24

USC vs. Ohio State 4:30 PM ET

UCLA vs. Penn State 7 PM ET

Sunday, January 26

USC vs. Penn State 1 PM ET

UCLA vs. Ohio State 7 PM ET

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