The No. 8 UCSB men’s volleyball team closed out a tough week with a second loss against No. 8 UC Irvine in Saturday night’s game. The Gauchos were slow to start, but a rally in the third and fourth set kept them alive for a dramatic game five.
With the defeat, the Gauchos fall to an overall record of 3-2 and a conference record of 2-2. They are tied for sixth place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation alongside Long Beach State and Cal State Northridge.
“We came out flat; we just started too late,” Assistant Coach Tyson Norton said.
Despite the close match scores (25-21, 25-23, 16-25, 22-25, 17-15), UCSB handed over the lead early in the game, allowing UC Irvine to take both the first and second set. Not only did Santa Barbara come out flat from the service line, but weak blocking at the net and multiple attack errors were no competition for UCI’s exceptional level of play.
“What it comes down to is playing aggressive. For us we need to make sure our guys are playing aggressive and playing to win,” Tyson said. “As long as we are doing that, we have our shot, no matter how good their service is.”
The Anteaters scored an impressive 11 service aces in Saturday’s game, nine of which came from the first two sets.
The Gauchos performance in the third mirrored a similar comeback situation that happened in the Stanford match a few weeks earlier when UCSB came back to win. Dominant blocking at the net from sophomore setter Jonah Seif and redshirt junior middle blocker Jake Staahl, in combination with nine UCI errors, led to a strong nine-point Gaucho victory.
UCSB continued this momentum into the fourth set. Junior outside hitter Austin Kingi was a large contributor to the Gauchos late game offensive push, finishing with a team high of 17 kills.
Both UCSB and Irvine came out aggressive in the final set, leading into what would ultimately come down to a blocking game. Redshirt junior outside hitter Weston Nielsen and Staahl had a combined block that tied the match at 4-4. Staahl and Seif followed with another, giving the Gauchos a one-point advantage. UC Irvine responded with two blocks of their own, making the match an even tie.
“It was pretty amazing how we were able to come back from being two down, and eventually have match point,” senior middle blocker Ryan Thompson said. “We were blocking pretty well at that point.”
Towards the end of the final set UCI held a 12-10 lead before UCSB scored four straight and had match point at 14-12. Two consecutive Gaucho errors kept Irvine in the game. After tying it up at 14-14, two kills from UCI junior opposite Zack La Cavera and a final Irvine block sealed the match with an Anteater victory of 3-2.
“In the end, hitting two balls out was really frustrating, especially when we knew we had the game in our hands,” Thompson said.
Despite their late game rally, the Gauchos couldn’t pull the win after another slow start.
UC Irvine improves to 5-4 overall and advances to 2-3 in the MPSF.
This week UCSB will host the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors in a doubleheader on Thursday and Friday night.
A version of this article appeared on page 4 of January 27, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.