Two undefeated teams, a gym filled with nearly 1,500 raging fans and a few dozen athletes determined to win by any means necessary set the tone Saturday at Rob Gym, where the #2 UCSB men’s volleyball team sized up #4 Stanford.
The fight was intense, but in the end UCSB (3-1 overall, 1-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) saw its winning streak go up in smoke, 22-30, 33-31, 22-30, 25-30.
“We didn’t play poorly, we just didn’t play as well as Stanford,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “It’s not a step backwards, we just stumbled. But we did some good things. Stanford simply out-served and out-received us, and that’s the most critical factor at the lowest and the highest level of the game. That’s what determines who wins and who loses.”
The Gauchos stumbled at the service line, tallying 21 service errors to Stanford’s 12. UCSB’s defensive attack was led by senior libero Shane Johnston, who set a career-high nine digs. Stanford had enough protection to damper Johnston’s stellar performance by out-digging UCSB 36-27 and out-blocking the Gauchos 9-6.
“We didn’t block well,” Preston said. “It’s hard when they receive serves so well. For us to let a team hit .434, obviously we’re not blocking a lot of balls.”
The Cardinal came out strong in game one, taking a 7-15 lead- the largest point spread that either team would see for the rest of the afternoon. This initial stab is what proved to be an insurmountable deficit for UCSB. Santa Barbara chipped away at the Cardinal lead, narrowing it to five, but eventually fell 22-30.
Junior outside hitter Dave Kohl laid a solid foundation for the Gauchos in game two by serving up the first seven points and throwing down three kills, forcing Stanford to take a timeout. UCSB led 7-0, but Stanford quickly made its presence known and tied the game at 21. UCSB lost a few crucial points off missed serves but countered its mistakes, beating out the Cardinal 33-31.
“[UCSB] put up a good fight,” said Cardinal sophomore outside hitter and MPSF Player of the Week Curt Toppel. “They’ve been upsetting a lot of good teams – we had to push hard to beat them.”
It was back-and-forth for the first half of game three, with the score tied 10 times. But at 16-16 Stanford pulled ahead and won 22-30.
Game four was a one-point game for the first half. Similar to game three, the Cardinal had a burst of energy that gave them the edge, taking the game and the match 25-30.