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In February, the No. 7 UCSB men’s volleyball team lost against top-ranked BYU in Utah in five sets. On Friday at the Thunderdome, the Gauchos once again took the No. 1 team in the county to the brink of defeat before losing the lead late in the fifth set for a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat.
“Right now I’m a little disappointed, but when we look back at this, I think this is the hardest we’ve competed all year against the No. 1 team,” junior opposite Evan Licht said.
With the loss, the Gauchos now hold an even 14-14 overall record and 10-12 mark in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, dropping UCSB to the seventh seed for the playoffs. The defeat comes as UCSB’s first home loss since January and only its second loss in its past nine games. BYU extended its winning streak to 12 and improves to 20-3 overall and 19-2 in the MPSF.
“Any time you can go toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the country, some good stuff’s happening on your side of the net,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “It’s a tough loss, but they learned a lot and we look forward to playing these guys again.”
Santa Barbara took the first set 25-20 in large part to various runs it made throughout the frame. However, the Cougars responded in game two despite trailing by as many as five points in the set, mounting a comeback to win 25-20.
Each team traded sets from there on, with the Gauchos winning the third set 25-18 and losing the fourth set 25-21.
In the fifth set, UCSB found itself down 8-5 before switching sides of the court and going on a 7-2 run to take a 12-10 lead. Yet, BYU remained poised and won 15-13. It was UCSB’s fifth five-set loss of the season.
“Typically fifth sets are a little more steady than that, but both teams gave up some runs,” McLaughlin said. “We got ourselves right back in it and we actually had the lead and probably the player of the year, [BYU outside hitter] Taylor Sander, made it when it counted. That guy came through. He was clutch; it all goes to him.”
Freshman setter Jonah Seif was able to read the Cougar defense throughout the course of the match, setting up many opportunities for UCSB and recording 45 assists in the match. Santa Barbara was led by Licht, who had a career-high 21 kills to go along with four blocks and eight digs, making it the seventh time out of the past nine games he has led the Gauchos in kills.
Although the Gauchos had 16 blocks and limited Brigham Young to just a .187 hitting percentage, Sander delivered a clutch performance and took over late in the game on his way to recording 18 kills and 11 digs. Freshman opposite Ben Patch was equally impressive with 19 kills.
UCSB now gets ready to play against USC on Wednesday in its second-to-last game of the regular season at the Thunderdome at 7 p.m.
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of April 8th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Megali Gauthier of the Daily Nexus