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The No. 8 UCSB men’s volleyball team split its matches after its first full week on the road. The Gauchos dropped Thursday night’s game in five sets to No. 5 USC, but then came back with vengeance on Saturday, taking down No. 3 Pepperdine.
UCSB advances their overall record to 6-3, and they are now tied for fourth place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation with a conference record of 5-3.
“I’m happy with our team performance against Pepperdine,” sophomore setter Jonah Seif said. “It was a good win.”
The Gauchos broke their trend of slow starts by taking the first set in both their matches. On Saturday, UCSB came out strong against Pepperdine, winning its first two sets and maintaining a hitting percentage above .300 for both games. In addition to their offensive momentum, the Gauchos’ defense stepped up by holding the Waves to a hitting clip of just .030 in the second game.
“When we come out strong like we did against Pepperdine, it gives us a lot of confidence,” Seif said. “It’s a game of momentum and we had a lot of momentum at the beginning.”
Out of their eight conference games this season, a total of five have gone into five sets, and this week’s games were no exception. UCSB beat the Waves in the first two sets, but lost momentum in the third and fourth, sending them into a dramatic game five (25-22, 25-19, 25-27, 16-25, 15-12). At one point Pepperdine held a 9-7 lead over the Gauchos, but a kill by redshirt junior middle blocker Jake Staahl and a double block by Staahl and junior outside hitter Evan Licht tied the match at 9-9.
After tying the game at 9-9, the Gaucho offense gained their confidence back. Junior outside hitter Weston Nielsen delivered a clutch service ace at just the right time, allowing the Gauchos to take a 14-11 lead. The final play of the game consisted of a pass from junior outside hitter Austin Kingi and a kill from Seif.
“It was a great pass so I just decided to go for it,” Seif said.
Saturday’s game was a balanced effort from the entire team. Licht led the team with 19 kills while Nielsen had a career-high night with 18 kills and was one dig short of a double-double. Staahl led the defense with a team-high seven blocks, and Seif had a career-high night with 53 assists.
“We just decided to execute our game plan and come out super aggressive,” Nielsen said.
Pepperdine falls to an overall and conference record of 6-2 with their only other loss this season being against Long Beach State.
Thursday night’s game against USC did not go as smoothly for the Gauchos.
Although they beat the Trojans in the first and third set, the Gauchos could not clench the game in the fourth set, despite having match point multiple times (25-20, 32-34, 25-23, 25-27, 9-15).
“It’s just extremely frustrating when it’s so close, and you don’t do enough to get that point at the end of the game,” Seif said.
The Trojans completely ran away with the game in the fifth set, closing out with a 15-9 victory.
Aside from falling to USC, the Gauchos had an impressive night on paper. Licht, Neilsen, Kingi and redshirt sophomore Ryan Hardy all recorded kills in the double digits. Seif also recorded his second triple double of the season.
USC now holds an overall record of 6-3 and a conference record of 5-3.
Now, the Gauchos head back to Santa Barbara for a Wednesday night game against Cal State Northridge.
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of Feb. 10th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Kenneth Song of the Daily Nexus