The No. 5 UCSB men’s volleyball team nears the end of its regular season play with sights set on a top-four finish. After a weeklong break, the Gauchos resumed play with a 3-0 sweep over Cal Baptist and a dramatic one-point loss to No. 2 Brigham Young University.
After last week’s matches, UCSB now holds an overall record of 14-7 and a conference record of 13-7. The Gauchos are currently tied for third place in the MPSF alongside Stanford and Long Beach State.
“We’re in a pretty good spot right now, we are in the upper half of our conference,” sophomore setter Jonah Seif said. “At this point we control our own destiny — we are in a much better position than last year.”
UCSB finished out last week’s play in Provo, UT, in a nationally-televised game in front of cheering crowd of over 3,000 people. The Gauchos started out the match trailing the Cougars 1-0. Multiple attack errors kept the Gauchos from holding on to the lead for more than a few points.
Despite their slow start, the Gauchos were able to adjust to BYU’s vocal fans and pull ahead in the second and third set. Senior opposite Evan Licht and junior outside hitter Weston Nielsen led the dominant offensive push with 15 kills each. After multiple serving errors in the first set, the Gauchos found their rhythm and cleaned up their performance at the service line.
Junior middle blocker Jake Staahl also had an impressive performance, leading the Gaucho defense with a team high of eight blocks. Despite holding the Cougars to a .107 hitting percentage in the second set and dominating in the third, the Gauchos lost their momentum and gave up the fourth set to the Cougars.
“They turned it up with their serves,” Seif said. “Once they are in their complete rhythm they are a really tough team to stop.”
After falling in the fourth set the Gauchos were unable to bounce back. The Cougars took the victory in the fifth set with a final score of 15-13. Senior outside hitter Taylor Sander led BYU with a team-high 27 kills and had eight blocks on the night. Sophomore opposite Matt Underwood also had an impressive performance against the Gauchos, ending the night with 11 kills hitting .625.
Taking down UCSB and UCLA in this past weekend, BYU moves forward with an overall record of 18-4 and a conference record of 18-2.
“It was frustrating that we lost, but overall it put us in a good position to show where have come as a team,” said senior middle blocker Ryan Thompson. “Going to five with the number one team in the league showed us that we could compete with the best, and potentially beat the best.”
Earlier in the week, UCSB took down Cal Baptist on the road in a quick three-game sweep. The Gauchos were able to get their momentum going early in this game, holding Cal Baptist to .034 hitting percentage in the first set.
A large determinant of the Gauchos’ success this season has been their overall number of digs in a game. Senior libero Chad Kingi led the team with 10 digs against the Lancers after coming off a career-high night against Pepperdine with 19 digs.
Cal Baptist now holds an overall record 4-20 and a conference record of 2-18.
Despite splitting their matches, the Gauchos are still in contention for the postseason with the possibility of hosting the first round match.
The Gauchos continue on the road with games against Long Beach State on Thursday and Northridge on Saturday.
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of March 31, 2014′s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.