Most people know that when traveling to the northern part of California, “hella” is a common adjective used to describe something extraordinary. But few people expected junior opposite hitter Alex Lienert to turn in a “hella” impressive performance, leading the #8 UCSB men’s volleyball team in both its away matches this past weekend.
“I feel good about how I played, but it’s disappointing that we lost both matches this weekend,” Lienert said “We had leads late in the games, but we were unable to finish. They caught the momentum at the end of the games.”
Despite Lienert’s 15 kills against Stanford, UCSB was swept on Friday in its 30-25, 30-23, 30-28 loss to #4 Stanford (12-7 overall, 8-6 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation). After losing to the Cardinal, UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston knew securing the eighth seed in the MPSF play-offs would be difficult.
“It’s pretty dim now,” Preston said after the Stanford match. “If we win tomorrow night [against Pacific] we have a chance. But we basically have to win out.”
The Gauchos (11-11, 4-11) match against Pacific (10-11, 6-9) on Saturday was critical if the team wanted a chance to advance to the upcoming MPSF playoffs. Lienert played with a sense of urgency against the Tigers, recording a career-high 27 kills and 10 digs against Pacific, but the team played the underdog in an intense 30-27, 30-27, 27-30, 28-30, 15-9 loss to the Tigers. Because of the loss, Santa Barbara will miss a chance to compete in the play-offs for the third year in a row.
“The first four games were really close,” Lienert said. “Everyone was fired-up about winning. But then in the fifth match, Pacific came out and scored three or four quick points and we couldn’t catch up.”
UCSB might have traveled to unfamiliar territory and lingo this weekend, but the Gauchos still managed to keep the scores tight in every game of both of their matches.
“It was a full-on brawl both nights – every game was close,” junior outside hitter Andy Rivera said. “It could have gone either way on Saturday but in the end it was a couple mistakes here and there that cost us.”
Santa Barbara also came up short defensively on Sunday, with Pacific out-digging UCSB, 44-33. Despite losing the battle of the digs to Pacific, the Gauchos out-blocked UOP, 16-7. The Tigers attack was on fire with a .438 hitting percentage, while UCSB hit only .299.
“Somehow we lost the defensive mode of our team,” Preston said. “We fought hard, we played a good match, we were right with them in all the games.”
Individually, Rivera added 14 kills for the Gauchos, while sophomore outside hitter Brian Nordberg chipped in 13 kills and hit a team high .556. Freshman setter Jeff Minc posted 65 assists and led UCSB in blocks with five.
Despite losing both matches over the weekend, the Gauchos proved that they could keep up with the Tigers, whom they lost to 3-0 earlier this season.
“We’re starting to play better even though it’s the end of the season,” sophomore outside hitter Ben Koski said. “[On Friday] we played pretty solid. No one would have beat Stanford – they were on fire. Now we’re playing for pride and not the play-offs.”
The Gauchos will play their last home match on Wednesday at 7 p.m. against USC.