After clinching a playoff spot with a 3-0 win over UCSD last Thursday, #8 UCSB took on conference rival UC Irvine on Friday night in Rob Gym. Despite a season-high 24 kills from senior outside hitter Jeff Menzel, the Gauchos fell to the Anteaters 3-1 (27-29, 25-18, 25-19, 25-14).
With four regular season matches remaining, UCSB now sits at 13-11 overall and 10-8 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
The first set displayed an exciting brand of volleyball with 24 ties and 10 lead changes as UC Irvine took a late lead, 27-26. Behind Menzel’s nine kills and a crucial serving ace, the Gauchos fought back and earned a 1-0 lead in the match with an emphatic game-winning kill by senior outside hitter Cullen Irons. UCSB also got a boost from sophomore middle blocker Dylan David, who recorded four blocks on the night.
“We came out ready to go. That first game was a battle,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “But after the first game we lacked a spark. We can’t do that anymore. We have to fix that before the playoffs.”
UC Irvine dominated the second set, never allowing the Gauchos to take a lead. Junior outside hitter Carson Clark led the Anteaters with a pair of aces and four of his 19 kills in the second game. Senior outside Cory Yoder added 15 kills in the match for UC Irvine.
“They served really well and got us in some trouble,” McLaughlin said. “Once that happens we become predictable. We hung in there the whole time. Jeff carried us, but Irvine was a better team.”
UCSB struggled in the third set, posting a team hitting percentage of .167, while the Anteaters hit .435 in the set and .390 for the match. The decisive fourth set was more of the same for the Gauchos, who only scored 14 points. Extending its winning streak to three matches, UC Irvine is now 15-11 overall and 11-8 in the MPSF.
“They put a lot of pressure on us from the service line and we didn’t pass well,” senior libero Andy McGuire said. “We let down after that first set and never really got into a rhythm throughout the match in games two, three and four. We have been even this year on the road and at home. We’re excited to improve these next weeks and get ready for the playoffs, whether we are home or away.”
Next up for the Gauchos this week are matches against Pacific and Stanford. UCSB hosts the Tigers on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Rob Gym.