On Tuesday night the #8 UCSB men’s volleyball team had something to defend – a four-match winning streak.
However, #5 Long Beach State (15-6 overall, 10-5 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) wasn’t intimidated by UCSB (11-9, 4-9) and came to the Thunderdome with a game plan of its own. The 49ers executed all the right moves and came out on top in a 30-12, 30-26, 30-26 victory.
“We didn’t come out and compete in the first game,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “They out-served and out-received us. They had some good blocks and we didn’t have a middle attack.”
In game one, the Gauchos lacked a consistent nucleus of starters and the team quickly found itself up to its neck in debt. UCSB tried to find a spark, but all hopes of winning game one was lost in transition as Santa Barbara was pummeled the entire way through.
The Gauchos found the right elements in game two and put the pressure on Long Beach State. The score remained close, but the way of the gun fell in the 49ers favor and with the score tied at 23, Long Beach pulled ahead for the victory.
“Our goal going into the game was to pass well because we know they’re a good serving team,” freshman middle blocker Justin Adams said. “We didn’t pass well and when that happens it’s hard to run our offense because you don’t have all of your options open.”
Santa Barbara was ahead 7-5 in game three, but Long Beach shifted the momentum and took an 11-10 lead. Junior outside hitter Alex Lienert’s kill tied it up again at 13, but the 49ers didn’t back down, taking the lead once more. Sophomore outside hitter Jan Carlo Zegarra’s ace serve brought the Gauchos within two, 27-25, but a few errors on UCSB’s side of the net gave Long Beach some breathing room, 29-25. Sophomore outside hitter Brian Nordberg then attempted to gain lost ground with a kill, but Long Beach finished what it started, winning game three to take the match.
“The coaches have done everything they can to prepare us – everything that’s happening now is falling on our shoulders,” Adams said. “The whole team needs to be on the same page and we haven’t been. Even if five guys come prepared, it’s not enough – everyone has to come ready to play.”
Lienert posted 11 kills and three block assists on the evening, while Nordberg finished with 10 kills and a .692 hitting performance to lead the Gauchos. On the other side of the net, senior opposite hitter David McKienzie dominated with 22 kills and eight defensive digs.
“They’re capable of playing better than this,” Long Beach senior outside hitter Jim Polster said. “They caught us on a good night and we caught them on a bad night. We floundered earlier this season, but we’re on a streak now.”
The 49ers have solidified a seed in the upcoming MPSF playoffs and are on a three-game winning streak, with recent wins over #4 Stanford and #1 BYU.
With four games left in the regular season, UCSB knows that its upcoming performances are critical. This weekend the Gauchos travel north where they will compete against Stanford on Friday and Pacific on Saturday.
“The ball’s not in our court if we don’t win three of the next four matches,” Adams said. “We have an important road trip coming up – we know what we have to do and now it’s a matter of doing it.”