All good things must come to an end, and that was the case for the No. 7 UCSB men’s volleyball team last night against No. 6 Cal Baptist.
The Gauchos lost for just the second time in their past 11 games, getting swept on the road by the Lancers three sets to none, which snapped their seven-game winning streak.
The loss puts the Gauchos at 14-13 overall on the season and drops them to 10-11 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. More importantly, the loss leaves the Gauchos in eighth place in the conference and they now trail Pepperdine by one and a half games for the fifth seed in the playoffs.
With only three games left in the regular season, the Gauchos are still battling for a higher seed in the playoffs.
“If we can clinch a couple more wins, we can put ourselves in a great spot in playoffs,” senior outside hitter Miles Evans said. “Our goal is to play Long Beach State or UCLA in the playoffs; that’d be great.”
Both teams entered the contest with identical records and matched up equally on paper, but the Lancers were the aggressors early in the match and proved to be the better team as the game wore on.
Despite having a lower hitting percentage than the Gauchos in the first set, Cal Baptist did not commit costly errors and benefitted from its aggressive play.
Down 4-0 in the beginning stages of the set, the Lancers found themselves losing late in the game until finally drawing even with the Gauchos at 17 all. From there on, the Lancers dominated the frame, scoring eight of the final nine points to steal the set.
Cal Baptist picked up where it left off from the first set and had an early advantage in the second game.
Nevertheless, the Gauchos mounted a comeback of their own and tied the frame at 18, despite trailing throughout. Just as in the previous set, Cal Baptist outlasted UCSB for a 26-24 win.
The Lancer’s two Brazilian outside hitters, senior Levi Cabral and sophomore Guilherme Koepp combined for 24 kills as Cal Baptist won the third set 25-19 for the sweep.
Cal Baptist was extremely efficient on offense in its last two sets, hitting for an impressive .640 clip in the second set with 17 kills, followed by a .409 hitting percentage in the final set. The Gauchos did not help themselves either, committing 16 total errors in the game compared to just eight errors for the Lancers.
Junior opposite Evan Licht had another big game for UCSB. Licht led all Gauchos in kills with 13, making it the sixth time in eight games he has lead the team in kills. Senior middle blocker Dylan Davis had a subpar night for his standards, hitting only .091 with five kills and two blocks.
UCSB will have no time to dwell on the loss of the winning streak as it must prepare to face the top-ranked team in the nation on Friday in BYU.
The Cougars enter as the only team as hot as the Gauchos before their loss against Cal Baptist. Brigham Young is currently on an 11-game winning streak and serves as a measuring stick for the Gauchos as the playoffs approach.
“We know we can beat any team in our league, we proved it throughout our season,” Evans said. “We’re just going to have to take it to the teams.”
In the previous match between the two teams, the Gauchos took the Cougars to the brink of defeat but were outlasted by BYU in the fifth set.
In that game, four different Gauchos had double digit kills including senior outside hitter Miles Evans who had a career-high 21 kills. However, BYU’s junior outside hitter Taylor Sander had 20 kills, four digs and three blocks, which proved to be the difference in the game.
“We have a lot of confidence coming into the next match,” Evans said. “We know we can beat them and we really want to [win] so we can have a good chance for a good seed.”
Besides serving as a measuring stick, Friday’s game against BYU will be critical in terms of seeding. The Gauchos are still in the hunt for the fourth seed in the playoffs which will grant them home court advantage. Santa Barbara has a 10-4 record at home but has struggled on the road, defeating only three conference opponents away from home and making the remaining games that more important.
The Gauchos are starting to feel the late season grind with only three games left in the regular season. UCSB was dealt with a devastating blow during last week’s trip to Hawaii. Evans suffered a high ankle sprain while playing against Hawaii when he stepped on sophomore middle blocker Jake Staahl’s foot.
Ruled out by doctor’s for four to six weeks, the injury came as a surprise to Evans who might have played his last game as Gaucho. Evans will attempt to come back in three weeks, which will be put him on track to play in the postseason.
Friday’s match against BYU is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Thunderdome.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of April 4th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Mark Brocher of the Daily Nexus.