It seemed like 2011 was about to repeat itself.
After taking a 2-1 lead in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation quarterfinal, the No. 7 UCSB men’s volleyball team seemed on the verge of upsetting No. 3 UC Irvine on the road.
However, the Anteaters managed to rally and end the Gauchos’ season, winning the match 3-2.
In a statistically even game, the Gauchos could not overcome their five-point deficit in the fifth set to upset the defending national champions.
The Gauchos finish the season one game under .500 at 15-16 overall and 11-13 in the MPSF conference. Santa Barbara could not shake off its trouble on the road, finishing the season 4-10 away from the Thunderdome.
After starting the season 3-9 in conference, the Gauchos posted a near-perfect record in March, including a seven-game winning streak to propel them into the seventh seed of the playoffs. However, Santa Barbara had a disappointing conclusion to its season and ended up losing four of its last five games.
Meanwhile, UC Irvine continues its run as the hottest team in the nation, extending its winning streak to six games. At 23-6 overall and 19-6 MPSF, the Anteaters seemed poised to reclaim the national title as they advance to the league semifinals against the third-seed Long Beach State on Thursday.
UCSB still has an outside chance of reaching the Final Four by earning the only at-large bid available, but their first round exit and overall record makes that possibility highly unlikely.
A back-and-forth first set ended up going to UC Irvine who had to fend off a resilient Gaucho attack to win the frame 26-24. UCSB responded as best they have the entire season, winning the second (25-22) and third set (25-20) to take a 2-1 lead.
Despite the lead, Irvine won the fourth set decisively 25-19 and built a five-point lead in fifth set, ultimately winning the final frame 15-10 and eliminating UCSB from the postseason.
Junior opposite Evan Licht once again led the Gauchos in kills with 19, but Irvine was able to contain his offensive efficiency and limited Licht to a .205 hitting percentage. Licht added 10 digs and four blocks on defense.
In his final game wearing the UCSB uniform, senior middle blocker Dylan Davis finished off his impressive career by recording six kills and four blocks. His 441 total blocks ranks third overall in program history.
Irvine advances to the next round primarily on the play of junior outside hitter Kevin Tillie. Tillie delivered on both ends of the court, finishing with 15 kills and seven digs. His three kills in the final set proved to be the difference as he delivered the final point of the match to send the Gauchos back home.
The middle blocker tandem of juniors Scott Kevorken and Collin Mehring was effective in containing the Gaucho offense and held UCSB to a .213 hitting percentage for the game, compared to a .285 clip for the Anteaters. Kevorken and Mehring combined for 12 kills and 11 total blocks in the game.
Santa Barbara will have to fill the huge void left by Davis and its three other seniors, including outside hitter Miles Evans, but the remaining players can rely on the experience and chemistry established this year going forward.
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of April 22nd’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Magali Gauthier of the Daily Nexus.