With a successful preseason behind them, the No. 11 UCSB men’s volleyball team heads into its first weekend of league games on Friday against the University of Pacific, and Saturday against No. 1 Stanford. Looking to move forward from last year’s early season slump, the Gauchos head into this weekend’s match-ups with confidence having recently placed third in the 50th annual Asics Invitational, and having earned exhibition sweeps against UC Santa Cruz and Concordia.
Santa Barbara currently holds an overall record of 1-0, and is tied for sixth place in the MPSF alongside Stanford, Pacific, UCLA and Hawaii, not having played any conference games yet. Pacific currently holds an overall record of 1-2, and Stanford holds a record of 3-0.
“These are going to be the first games in league, so they are big wins,” said sophomore setter Jonah Seif. “We just need to keep our momentum going and keep up our win streak.”
The Gauchos have swept their last three games in straight-set wins and defeated both Pacific and Stanford when they met earlier this month at the Asics Invitational.
“They are excited to get this season going, and it’s always exciting for them to start their first league match. It is an especially important one because you want to start off on the right foot,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “I think they’re ready to have a good match against Pacific.”
UCSB will look to Seif in the middle and will rely on its passing game to facilitate scoring opportunities to its hitters to throw off Pacific’s defense.
“We know Pacific is a really good blocking team,” Seif said. “We know we have to serve really well and pass well against them because if we pass the ball poorly they are going to have three blockers up against us the whole time.”
Freshman outside hitter/opposite Thomas Hodges is a player to watch on defense as he currently is Pacific’s team leader with 21 blocks on the season. This will be the final time the Tigers ever play at Rob Gym. Pacific plans to cut the program entirely after the 2014 season.
In addition to Pacific, the Gauchos face a second challenge against Stanford on Saturday.
“We’ve got to not so much worry about them. They are ranked number one right now and they’re a really good team, but we have to worry about what we do,” McLaughlin said. “If we can do what we have been doing, it should definitely be a real close match.”
UCSB will look to outside hitters in senior Matt Hanley and junior Austin Kingi to get the offensive momentum rolling. Hanley currently leads the team with 10 kills and Kingi is close behind with six of his own.
“We are just going to go out there and do what we do. We are going to serve and pass well, and play point to point,” senior opposite Evan Licht said.
The Gauchos will take on Pacific this Friday, at 7p.m. in Rob Gym followed by a game against Stanford on Saturday at 7p.m. in Rob Gym.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of January 16, 2013′s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.