It’s one and done from here on out. The No. 7 UCSB men’s volleyball team will make its first playoff appearance since 2011 when they reach the national title game, playing Saturday in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation quarterfinal match against No. 3 UC Irvine on the road.
Ending the season losing three of their last four games, the Gauchos understand it will take a total team performance to upset the defending national champions.
Having clinched the seventh seed of the MPSF, the Gauchos finished the regular season with an even 15-15 overall record and 11-13 mark in league. Irvine (22-6 overall, 18-6 MPSF) enters as the second overall seed in the conference, having ended the regular season with a five-game winning streak.
In the two previous meetings between the teams in the regular season, UCI defeated Santa Barbara on both occasions, sweeping the first game at Rob Gym 3-0 and prevailing at home 3-1. However, UCSB has evolved into a completely different team in the two month span since the last time these teams played.
Junior opposite Evan Licht has turned into the go-to player for the Gauchos, recording double-digit kills in his final seven games of the season and leading the team in kills for much of that span. Having only made one total appearance as a substitute in both games against the Anteaters, Licht will add an extra dimension for UCSB’s offense.
The game has added meaning for senior middle blocker Dylan Davis. In what quite possibly may be his final game of his collegiate career, Davis, the lone remaining starter from the team that reached the title game two years ago, has guided the team for much of the season and brings proven postseason experience to a relatively young squad.
The team captain has delivered for the Gauchos throughout the season, posting 1.37 blocks per game and averaging a .438 hitting percentage, ranking third and sixth in the conference, respectively. In the first match against Irvine, Davis was forced to exit from the game early due to injury and could not play in the final crucial moments of the match.
Sweeping five of its last seven opponents, UC Irvine enters the playoffs as the hottest team in the country and ready to repeat as champions. With the best middle blocker tandem in the league, juniors Scott Kevorken and Collin Mehring, Irvine is second in the MPSF in opponent hitting percentage (.238). Kevorken and Mehring come in with a .506 and .484 hitting percentage, respectively.
If that was not enough to contain for the Gauchos, they will also have to account for AVCA National Player of the Year, junior outside hitter Kevin Tillie. This year, the Frenchman has averaged 3.83 kills per set and had a total of 32 kills in seven total sets against the Gauchos this season.
Saturday’s game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at Irvine.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Magali Gauthier of the Daily Nexus.