Riding momentum from three straight road victories over the weekend, the #10 Gauchos beat #12 UC Irvine Wednesday night 3-1 to sweep the season series between the schools.
“Everything clicked tonight for us. We played great,” junior opposite Cullen Irons said.
UCSB improved to 7-5 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and, perhaps more importantly, 2-7 at home. The Gauchos’ previous lone home victory came all the way back on Jan. 16 against UC San Diego. UC Irvine, following its championship season, dropped its league record to 5-9.
“We had a lot of momentum coming into this match after the road trip and we just tried to feed off that,” Irons said.
In the victory, UCSB was led by junior outside hitter Jeff Menzel, who hammered home 22 kills to go along with a team-high 11 digs. Junior middle blocker Scott Slaughter and senior opposite Jake Rosener added 14 kills apiece.
In the first set, Santa Barbara and Irvine battled through a close game before the Gauchos persevered in extra points 33-31 thanks to a Rosener kill. As of late, UCSB has come up big in securing critical points.
“We have all the confidence in the world, even in pressure situations,” Irons said. “We know we are a great team.”
Early in the second set, the Anteaters showed they would not be put away easily. Already down 12-15, UCSB was forced to take a timeout after a three-point run by Irvine extended the lead to six. The Gauchos came out of the timeout determined and eventually tied the score at 25-25 after a block by senior middle blocker Sam Moisenco. The teams traded points until a Slaughter kill put the Gauchos up by one at 28-27. The set ended in favor of UCSB 30-28. The teams once again traded points before a Menzel kill emphatically ended it in favor of Santa Barbara, 30-28.
“We had some great plays that really crushed their momentum tonight,” Irons said.
After dropping the third set to Irvine 27-30, UCSB found itself in a battle early in the fourth set. Up 10-8 a two-point run capped by a Menzel kill force Irvine to take a timeout. After that, it was all Santa Barbara as the Gauchos cruised to a 30-24 victory.
“We have been working really hard to push through and close out teams early in three or four games and that’s what we were able to do tonight,” Irons said.