Brigham Young University is still the team to beat.
Leading the nation with their .418 hitting percentage, the Cougars (11-1, 7-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) have clawed their way to the top of the MPSF, and they left their mark on the #8 UCSB men’s volleyball team Friday night. The Gauchos (7-8, 3-8) fought hard, but came up short, losing 30-22, 29-31, 30-26, 30-28.
Reeling from the loss to BYU, Santa Barbara came out a shadow of its former self against #11 Pacific (5-7, 3-5) on Sunday. UCSB didn’t put up much of a fight against the Tigers, losing for the fifth match in a row, 30-21, 30-23, 30-20.
“On Friday we played a good team and we played to their level,” junior outside hitter Alex Lienert said. “If we had played at the same level in Sunday’s match we would have killed these guys, but instead we played with no emotion. Everybody was sleepwalking – there was no chemistry. The coach tried to make some chemistry by subbing in different people, but no one could push us over the top.”
Current Cougar, and former Gaucho, junior outside hitter Joaquin Acosta, had something to prove to the Gauchos in Friday’s match. Acosta came through for BYU in game one with some impressive kills and added to the Cougars 61.5 hitting percent that earned the team a 30-22 victory.
UCSB retaliated in the second game, coming from behind for a 31-29 victory. Sophomore middle blocker Anders Bengtsson sprained his ankle during the game, and was unable to compete for the rest of the weekend.
In game three, the Cougars found it hard to step in front of UCSB. But in the end, it was a few errors on Santa Barbara’s side of the net that cost it the game, as it fell 30-26.
The Gauchos restricted BYU to no more than a three-point lead for the first half of game four. But Santa Barbara soon fell behind due to its service and hitting errors. BYU capitalized on the Gauchos’ mistakes to squeak past UCSB in a 30-28 victory.
“We were well-prepared to play on Friday,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “We fought hard, but we just came up short. We got beat down the line.”
Sophomore opposite hitter Ben Koski led the team with 20 kills and 5 block assists in the match. Junior outside hitter Andy Rivera came through with 16 kills and 6 block assists and sophomore outside hitter Brian Nordberg had 9 kills, while hitting .692 in the match.
If there has been a low point in the season for the Gauchos, it was Sunday afternoon against Pacific.
In game one, junior outside hitter Dave Kohl couldn’t keep the team afloat with his three consecutive service aces, and at 10-10 Santa Barbara lost its momentum, handing Pacific a 30-21 victory.
UCSB then lost the final two games 30-23 and 30-20 with UOP completing the sweep.
The Gauchos are now at a critical point in their season with the play-offs right around the corner. However, UCSB will have a chance to size up some East Coast teams and turn around its losing streak in the Long Beach Tournament this weekend.
“Our team is in a slump,” senior middle blocker Shane Johnston said. “We need to come together as a team. We need leadership and confidence and we’ve been weak in these areas in the past weeks. February is always a really tough month – four of our last five losses have been against Top 5 teams.”