A season’s worth of play will all come down to this weekend for the No. 14 UCSB men’s volleyball team. Entering in ninth-place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation with nine conference games left on the season, the Gauchos will have to come out victorious in a pair of must-win-games against No. 4 Stanford and No. 15 Pacific this weekend to keep its playoff hopes alive.
“Every game is definitely a must-win from now on,” junior outside hitter Miles Evans said. “If we can get two wins per week it would be extra huge. We need to make sure we take care of business when the time comes.”
After a dreadful road trip in which the Gauchos went 2-5, UCSB will finally play a home game for the first time in over a month when it faces Stanford Friday. At 7-12 record overall and 5-10 in conference, the Gauchos will this time have the advantage of playing at home where they are 5-4.
“I feel like we’re going to be more comfortable, more confident, and just a little more relaxed out there at home,” Evans said. “They’re coming to our gym and they’re going to have to play their best to beat us.”
However, Stanford (12-6 overall, 9-6 MPSF) stands in the way of UCSB’s postseason chances. In its previous meeting, the Cardinal swept the Gauchos with a big performance coming from junior outside hitter Brian Cook, who recorded 11 kills, six digs and four blocks. Junior outside hitter Steven Irvin is second on the team in kills (224) and will also be a threat on the left side.
“They have the option of Brian Cook; he’s definitely a player they like to go to,” junior libero Chad Kingi said. “If we shut him and [Irvin] down, I think we’ll have a very good chance.”
Pacific will present another threat to Santa Barbara Saturday. At 5-9 overall and 3-9 in league, the Tigers present a more favorable matchup for the Gauchos. However, Pacific defeated UCSB in five sets back in January, which at the time, extended UCSB’s season-long losing streak to six games.
Although not as potent offensively, proven by their second to last place rank in kills and assists per set in the league, the Tigers’ bread and butter this season has been their defense, which ranks near the top of the conference.
“I think in the past we really let other teams dictate what happens,” Kingi said. “We now realize we have to put pressure on other teams and make them actually beat us, and I think if we actually do that we will be in playoff contention.”
Santa Barbara will rely on senior middle blocker Dylan Davis who leads the team in blocks (95) and is second in kills (131).
Tonight’s match versus Stanford is scheduled for 7 p.m. and Saturday’s game against Pacific will begin at 4 p.m.