The No. 5 UCSB men’s volleyball team had a weekend full of highs and lows on its first extended road trip of the season. The Gauchos fell to No. 9 Stanford in a three-game sweep Friday night, but were able to recover with a dominant victory over the University of Pacific one night later.
After splitting their matches in Northern California, the Gauchos now hold an overall record of 9-4. UCSB is currently ranked in fifth place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation with a conference record of 8-4. After this weekend, Stanford advances to an MPSF record of 6-5 and Pacific moves forward with a record of 1-10.
“We just needed to put that first match behind us,” junior opposite Evan Licht said. “If we came out of the week 1-1 it wasn’t a total disaster, so Pacific was a must-win for us.”
The Gauchos dominated the Tigers Saturday night in a quick three-game sweep (25-15, 25-17, 25-23). The Tigers’ defense was no match for the Gaucho offense, with three different players recording kills in the double digits and an overall team hitting percentage of .378. Licht and senior outside hitter Matt Hanley both led the team with 15 kills apiece.
“We passed the ball a lot better against Pacific, which allowed us to run a more fluid offense,” Licht said.
In addition to being a force on offense, the Gauchos also dominated the game defensively. Senior middle blocker Ryan Thompson commanded the middle with three block assists and senior libero Chad Kingi and sophomore setter Jonah Seif each had seven digs. Seif also recorded three of the team’s seven service aces against Pacific.
“After the Stanford game we were able to talk to Jonah and establish a better connection between the hitters and the setter and that made a big difference,” sophomore middle blocker Ryan Hardy said. “We connected a lot better with Jonah the second night.”
On Friday, one night previous, it wasn’t a similar outcome for UCSB. The Cardinal had a school-record night on defense, out-blocking the Gauchos 21.5-3.5. Stanford had three different players that recorded five blocks against UCSB and two players that recorded seven blocks against the Gauchos.
“First thing first, I think the Stanford game was inevitable for our season,” Hanley said. “Every really good team has a night where they are very off. I think the Stanford game was an example of that; we had been playing strongly coming up to that game.”
The Gauchos struggled to develop offensive momentum from the start, recording a hitting clip of -.030 in the first set. Although they were able to pull themselves out of the red in the second and third sets, the Gauchos were not able to get their hitting percentage above .100 for the entire game. Stanford’s sophomore middle blocker Conrad Kaminski tied his season best with eight total blocks on the night.
“To Stanford’s credit, they played a very good match,” Hanley said. “They went completely against our scouting report.”
The Gauchos continue the second half of their four-game road trip this week against UC Irvine and UC San Diego.
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of Feb. 24th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of the Daily Nexus.