Weeks of hard work in practice finally paid off for the No. 15 UCSB men’s volleyball team, as they captured their first MPSF victory on Friday with a 3-1 victory over Pepperdine.
Previously losing their first four conference games, the Gauchos used a potent offensive attack and improved blocking to overcome No. 8 Pepperdine on the road.
“It was good, we definitely needed to get a win,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “We’ve been working hard and things just fell into the right place. It’s good that our hard work paid off and we got a win; now our guys have something to build on.”
After falling to UCLA and USC on the road, the Gauchos recorded their first road and conference victories while snapping a four-game losing streak. UCSB (3-6 overall, 1-4 MPSF) defeated a ranked team after losing to top five opponents in three straight games.
UCSB needed extra points to win the fourth and final set with a 28-26 victory. The Gauchos won the first and second sets 26-24 and 25-21 before dropping the third set 21-25.
“It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” junior outside hitter Miles Evans said. “I’m super stoked; I couldn’t be any happier.”
Evans recorded 14 kills in the match for the Gauchos in what was his first MPSF victory after transferring from SBCC this year.
Freshman outside hitter Kevin Donohue recorded a team-high 17 kills, a career high to go along with nine digs.
“Kevin had a great match, he is a really competitive guy,” McLaughlin said. “He just wasn’t going to come out of there without a win. He wanted it bad and he did what it took. He led our team to victory.”
Though an area of concern thus far in conference play, blocking was much improved for the Gauchos in the match against Pepperdine, as they recorded a season-high 15.5 team blocks. Junior middle blocker Dylan Davis recorded a game-high seven blocks to go along with seven kills.
“[Winning] feels pretty darn good,” Davis said. “We had a phenomenal practice on Thursday. I think that really helped us stay a little more focused in the game, and I think everyone was ready to play the game and win.”
Pepperdine lost its second in a row after falling to UCLA, the only team undefeated in the MPSF. The Waves, who fell to the Bruins in five sets, committed 28 total errors, compared to 20 for the Gauchos.
“If we play like that, we can compete with anyone, for sure,” McLaughlin said. “If we play the way we did, we’re going to be in a battle with UCLA.”
Players and coaches unanimously agreed it was the team’s best performance of the season and should be important to help team morale after four straight losses.
“Confidence is what it’s all about,” McLaughlin said. “That’s what getting these guys experience is for, so they got confident and comfortable out there on the court. When you can do it by getting a win over one of the top teams in the country, it’s a big thing.”
Donohue and fellow freshman outside hitter Weston Nielsen both played pivotal roles for the Gauchos in the victory, providing depth for a young team returning only one starter from last year’s national runner-up team.
“They’re all stepping up right now, I think it’s going to be great when we finish up the season,” Davis said. “Donohue and Weston Nielsen both played out of their minds. It was really fun to watch.”
With a conference victory under their belts, the Gauchos hope it is a sign of things to come.
“We played with more energy than we’ve ever had in any of our matches,” Evans said. “We played every single point like it was the most important point of the match. We just fought for every point and fought as hard as we could.”
UCSB next hosts UCLA on Friday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. in Rob Gym.