Some teams dwindle at the end of the season, while others, like the UCSB men’s volleyball team, go out with a bang.
The Gauchos played their final home match of the season Wednesday night in the Thunderdome and showed over 600 fans the glory of the game as they cleaned up #6 USC in an intense 30-27, 30-27, 36-34 victory.
“I’m speechless,” sophomore outside hitter Jan Carlo Zegarra said. “We were playing for pride and not for the playoffs – we had nothing to lose. The way we played tonight shows that we can play up to any team’s level.”
Earlier this season Santa Barbara (12-11 overall, 5-11 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) butted heads with the Trojans (13-8, 10-7) and lost in a fierce five-set match, but the tables were turned last night. UCSB fought tooth and nail, squeezing past USC in its first two games, before winning the epic third game.
There were no blue faces in the stands at the Events Center after the first two games, but some people might have forgotten to breathe at the end of the third. The first half of the game was a back-and-forth battle, but with the Gauchos down 27-25, the momentum began to shift toward Santa Barbara. Sophomore outside hitter Keith Busam and freshman middle blocker Justin Adams raised the level of their play, keeping the game close in the process.
With the Trojans leading 29-28, USC’s junior outside hitter Brook Billings had a chance to play the victor, but the 2000 All-American cracked under pressure and committed a service error for the game point, the third such error for USC.
Zegarra must have gotten sick of the tension, because he finished what USC had started. Zegarra’s kill gave UCSB a 35-34 lead, which he quickly followed with a service ace, as the Gauchos took the game and the match.
“Our team had a lot of spirit, energy and chemistry out there on the floor tonight,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said.
The win was made even sweeter for senior middle blocker Wes Badorek and senior libero Shane Johnston, who were playing in their final home match.
“It was a great way to go out,” Badorek said. “We played on a whole different level. I want to thank the fans – they were awesome out there tonight.”
Badorek was among a group of players that saw a great deal of playing time throughout the evening. The Gauchos used a different rotation against the Trojans, and the players responded to the change, showing the talent that Santa Barbara will have next season.
“There have been two teams playing together in the gym all year,” Preston said. “The team out there on the floor tonight was hungry for some playing time and they played a solid match. After tonight everything is wide open. This gives us a lot more to look at for next year.”