Down two games to none at No. 3 BYU, the UCSB men’s volleyball team rallied on Saturday night, capturing three consecutive sets to give the Gauchos their biggest victory of the season.
Trailing 12-8 in the decisive fifth set, the No. 12 Gauchos stormed back with a 7-1 run, overpowering the Cougars for the match-clinching victory to split the weekend series with BYU.
“It was one of the best feelings of our season this year,” junior outside hitter Miles Evans said. “It gave us a lot of confidence and showed us how hard we’ve been working in practice and how well we can compete against the top ranked teams in our league.”
With the victory on Saturday, UCSB simultaneously snapped their own two-game losing skid and a BYU five-game winning streak, while improving to 5-9 overall (3-7 MPSF). The Gauchos, who were in 10th place before the trip to Utah, currently sit in a three-way tie for eighth place and the final spot in the playoffs.
“This win is probably one of the most important wins of our season as far as trying to make the playoffs,” Evans said. “We still have a long way to go, but this win helped us in a lot of ways to make the playoffs.”
BYU, meanwhile, falls to 11-4 (7-3 MPSF) on the season and currently sits in fourth place in the conference, a drop from their spot at third before entering the series with Santa Barbara.
“From this win, we believe in ourselves a little bit more and we think we can take some of the top five teams in the league,” Evans said.
Boosting the Gauchos to victory was freshman outside hitter Austin Kingi, who, in his first two opportunities to play this season, recorded a combined 25 kills over the weekend. Kingi led all players in Saturday’s match with a career-high 18 kills, while also recording 14 digs to catapult UCSB over BYU.
“I think it was important because we needed another solid outside hitter to help spread the offense out,” Kingi said. “We could spread the ball out and have a more effective offense.”
Evans once again proved pivotal for the Gauchos, recording 15 kills and 13 digs while freshman outside hitter Kevin Donohue added 16 kills and seven digs. The trio of outside hitters gave the Gauchos a versatile offensive attack to help overcome a strong Cougar squad.
“Beating BYU at their home was a huge win for us and gave us a lot of confidence,” Evans said. “Now we know that we can go to a top team in our league, at their gym, and we can take them. We just have to stay confident and really put it on them and compete to the best level that we can.”
Falling behind 2-0 in Saturday’s match, the Gauchos captured three consecutive games to secure the 3-2 victory in the face of a raucous BYU crowd. Despite losing 3-1 to BYU on Friday, UCSB salvaged their weekend in what appears to be their most important victory to date.
“We just stayed composed and really played as a team, not as individuals,” Evans said. “We really stuck together, and if we ever made a mistake or got a kill or a big point, we’d bring it in close. We had a lot of energy whether we won or lost the point and stayed confident, and that really helped us play better, with better team chemistry.”
With their weekend split, the Gauchos have positioned themselves into the thick of the MPSF race for the final spot in the conference tournament and are tied with Hawaii and Northridge for eighth. They currently sit one game behind Long Beach for seventh in the conference.
“It was really important to give us some momentum to try to get into playoffs,” Kingi said. “It shows that we can definitely be one of the top teams. Right now, anyone can beat anyone. You get these chances, and it just gives us confidence to get into the playoffs and keep moving on and getting better.”
UCSB next travels to Northridge on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. match.