Some people save the best for last, and that’s exactly what senior opposite hitter Eckhard Walter of #13 Northridge men’s volleyball team did Friday night against the #9 UCSB men’s volleyball team.
Walter’s career-high 36 kills proved to be insurmountable for the Gauchos, who ended their season in an intense 32-34, 30-20, 32-34, 31-29, 12-15 loss.
“We knew that [Walter] was good, but inconsistent,” sophomore opposite hitter Ben Koski said. “Friday was his last match and he was on a mission. We tried all different kinds of blockers out there but he was on fire and we couldn’t stop him.”
When Walter’s punishing swing became apparent in the first game, Santa Barbara (12-12 overall, 5-12 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) began firing its artillery, but couldn’t overcome an early deficit, and lost game one.
“We started out slow in the first game,” junior outside hitter Alex Lienert said. “Even though we came back, we weren’t able to overcome our deficit. The second game was a good game – we came back with a couple of key plays.”
The Gauchos hit .625 in the second game and evened out the playing field, winning 30-20. However, luck wasn’t on UCSB’s side of the net and the Gauchos lost 34-32 in the third game. The Matadors then waved their white flag in the fourth game, succumbing to Santa Barbara 31-29, before CSUN rebounded to take game five.
“In the fifth game Northridge kept feeding [Walter] the ball and he was unstoppable,” junior outside hitter Andy Rivera said. “Both teams played well the whole match. We were hitting well and passing well but it all came down to us playing solid defense and blocking.”
Walter wasn’t the only senior to turn up the intensity. UCSB senior libero Shane Johnston came through for UCSB with a team-high six digs, and senior middle blocker Wes Badorek shined with seven kills, while hitting .667.
“Wes played out of his mind,” Koski said. “It was the best I’ve ever seen him play.”
Other players who rose to the occasion were Lienert, who led the team in kills with 21, followed closely by sophomore outside hitter Jan Carlo Zegarra, who came through for the team with a season-high 18 kills. Sophomore middle blocker Justin Adams chipped in six blocks, while junior Britt Galang tallied 69 assists.
Despite underachieving this season and losing two seniors, the Gauchos have high hopes for next year.
“We have more than a full team of good players coming back next year,” Lienert said. “We set ourselves up this year for a good season next year – a lot of young players now have a year of experience under their belt.”
UCSB ended its season sooner than it hoped to, as the team came up a few wins shy of a playoff seed. But the Gauchos believe that they can improve on this season’s finish.
“We’re definitely not satisfied,” Koski said. “We worked hard this season. We need to keep that work ethic going into next season, but we need to play better as a team and keep a high level of intensity the whole season. We lost that in the middle and we started to get it back in the end.”