Just days after dropping an exhausting five set match to fourth-ranked USC, the UCSB men’s volleyball team had another chance to pull off a big upset win at home. No. 2 Pepperdine would have none of it. Fittingly enough for the day when most UCSB students were enjoying a day at the beach, the Waves swept the Gauchos away with an easy 30-23, 30-26, 30-28 victory Saturday night.
“I don’t think we were challenging the block enough,” sophomore libero Andy McGuire said. “And we just made too many errors.”
The match got started on an ominous note for Santa Barbara, as the Waves jumped out to a 3-0 lead in game one. UCSB came right back to garner a 7-5 advantage, but five of those Gaucho points came due to Pepperdine miscues. After battling even for the first part of game one, the teams were tied at 14 points apiece. From there, it was all downhill for UCSB. The Waves went on a 16-9 run to close out the set and walked away with a comfortable 30-23 victory.
Game two started off even less auspiciously for UCSB, as four attack errors resulted in a 4-0 deficit early on. Again, to their credit, the Gauchos would not fade away and evened up the score at 10-10. The teams battled point-for-point until 15-15, but once more the Waves began to pull away. Pepperdine notched three unanswered points to spark a 7-2 run from which the Gauchos could never recover. UCSB ended up falling 30-26, digging itself into an even deeper hole for game three.
Down two sets to none to one of the best teams in the country, some teams might have folded in the third. Not UCSB though, as the decisive third game proved to be the closest of the match.
“It’s been a pattern this year, against some of the tougher teams,” McGuire said. “We played a lot better in the third game.”
The teams squared off in a dead heat throughout the game, and coming down the stretch it was a neck-and-neck affair. Sophomore outside hitter Jeff Menzel put away a huge kill to tie things up at 28, but unfortunately for Santa Barbara, that was the last point the team would score. Pepperdine put away the final two points, and closed out the game on an attack error by sophomore middle blocker Scott Slaughter.
The numbers tell the tale of the sweep, as the Gauchos hit an abysmal .225 on the night compared to an outstanding .482 mark for the Waves. In fact, Menzel and Slaughter — usually two of Santa Barbara’s finest players — hit at a measly .085 clip combined. The only bright spot for UCSB was the play of Cullen Irons, who led the team in kills for the third consecutive match with 18. Without Irons’ .520 clip, UCSB’s attack percentage would have dropped all the way down to .109.
With the loss, the Gauchos drop to 8-16 and 4-15 in the MPSF. Pepperdine, meanwhile, improves to 18-2 and 16-2 in conference. Up next for UCSB are a couple of road matches at Long Beach State and UC San Diego, followed by its season finale at home against Cal State Northridge on April 17.
“We’re hopefully going to have four great days of practice,” McGuire said. “We’re going to try our hardest to end the season on a positive note.”