In its quest to get back into the playoff hunt, the UCSB men’s volleyball team split a pair of weekend games in Robertson Gym, beating Pacific Friday night before falling to #1 Stanford on Saturday night. After beating the lowly Tigers (3-0), UCSB couldn’t keep up with the Cardinals (3-0) as the conference powerhouse took down the home team in straight sets.
“We beat ourselves on Saturday,” junior outside hitter Jeff Menzel said. “Stanford is obviously a great team, but we made too many errors that let them off the hook.”
Against Pacific, UCSB turned in a dominating performance, beating the Tigers in straight sets to end a five-game losing streak. The Gauchos were led by junior outside hitter Jeff Menzel, who hammered home a match-high 14 kills. Junior opposite Blaine Nielsen added seven kills and a match-high 15 digs.
Heading in, UCSB knew that Stanford would provide a tougher test. To open up play, the Gauchos took an early 1-0 lead in the first set on a kill by junior middle blocker Scott Slaughter. From there, UCSB was forced to play catch-up after the Cardinals pulled ahead early on. Down 12-16, a kill from Stanford sophomore outside hitter Brad Lawson — who is second place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in kills per set — stretched the Cardinal lead to five and forced a Gaucho timeout.
Out of the timeout, Santa Barbara rallied behind the MPSF leader in kills per set. Consecutive Menzel smashes followed by a Slaughter ace cut the deficit to two at 18-20. However, that was as close as UCSB would get the rest of the way as Stanford fended off the Gauchos to take the first set 30-26.
Down 6-9 in the second set, UCSB ran off four consecutive points capped by two combined blocks by freshman middle blocker Dylan Davis and Menzel to take the lead, 10-9. Davis, who had six block assists on the night, stayed active as the set played out, assisting on two more blocks during a 5-0 Santa Barbara run. Tied 23-23, Stanford won four straight points to take a 27-23 lead from which the Gauchos could not recover. UCSB made it interesting late but ultimately the Cardinals prevailed once again, 30-28.
“We felt like we still had a chance to win the match even after losing that tight second set,” Menzel said.
Stanford continued to control the action in what ended up being the deciding set, as UCSB trailed for all of the third. Santa Barbara would get as close as three late at 17-20, but committed six serve errors in the final frame, leaving them unable to muster a serious run to challenge a team filled with dominant servers.
“Serving dictates how we play,” Menzel said. “When we win, we serve well, and when we lose, our serving usually contributes to that.”
With the loss, the Gauchos (8-11) remain ninth in the MPSF, trailing Long Beach by half a game for eighth place and the final spot in the postseason conference tournament. The Gauchos have three matches remaining — all home games — and need to win at least two if they are to catch the 49ers.