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The No. 5 ranked UCSB men’s volleyball team defeated No. 6 Long Beach State and fell in an upset to Cal State Northridge during the final road games of its regular season.
After splitting its matches last week, UCSB now holds an overall record of 15-8. The Gauchos are currently ranked in fourth place in the MPSF with a conference record of 14-8, and are still in the running for postseason play with the possibility of hosting a first-round match.
“We are going to be playing with a sense of urgency in this upcoming week,” senior middle blocker Ryan Thompson said. “Our record shows that we are not the most road comfortable team. We have had a lot of success at home and I think that would really help our chances of moving forward in the MPSF tournament.”
After coming out strong earlier in the week against Long Beach State, the Gauchos were unable to pull off a win against Cal State Northridge on Saturday night. The teams were even at 8.0 blocks overall, and the Gauchos dominated with 33 digs to CSUN’s 24, but in the end they were not able to break the Matadors from their rhythm. The Gauchos fell to the CSUN in a quick four-set match (18-25, 25-21, 23-25, 23-25).
“I felt they passed really well and it was really tough to get them out of system,” sophomore libero Parker Boehle said. “Their setter also did a really good job and it was tough on our block.”
CSUN’s sophomore outside hitter Sam Holt led the Matadors offensively, earning a team-high 18 kills. Defensively, junior middle blocker Greg Faulkner and freshman opposite Damani Lenore stopped the Gauchos at the net with five blocks apiece.
Despite coming out flat as a team, individual players came out strong for UCSB. Junior outside hitter Weston Nielsen led the offense with a team-high 16 kills and junior middle blocker Jake Staahl led the defense with five blocks on the night. After Saturday night’s match the Matadors advance to a record of 10-15 overall (9-13 MPSF).
Earlier in the week UCSB pulled off a crucial win over Long Beach State in a dramatic five-set finish (16-25, 25-21, 23-25, 25-23, 15-12). This win was especially important for UCSB because while they are still fighting for a playoff position, they now hold the tiebreaker over Long Beach in the contention standings.
Starting Thursday night’s match off slow, the Gauchos found their rhythm offensively and defensively in the second set. The Gauchos stepped up with 14 kills and six team blocks to tie the set at 19. Multiple players recorded kills in double digits against Long Beach, but it was senior outside hitter Matt Hanley that led the way with a team-high 21 kills.
In addition to Hanley’s impressive performance, sophomore setter Jonah Seif and senior libero Chad Kingi both had career-high nights. Seif controlled the net and recorded a personal best of 61 assists, and Kingi commanded the middle with an impressive 24 digs.
“I think we did a really good job preparing for the game against Long Beach, a lot of credit to our coach Rick McLaughlin,” Boehle said. “Kingi and Hanley were really able to execute the game plan, and overall we had a great week in practice.”
After exchanging sets back and forth, the real determinant happened in the fifth set. With the game tied at nine, a crucial block from Hanley and Staahl and a Long Beach attacking error gave the Gauchos the upper hand. A solo block from Thompson sealed the deal for the Gauchos, and they won the final set by three. Long Beach State moves forward with a record of 16-9 (13-9).
The Gauchos will return home this week for their final two matches of the season against Cal Baptist University and BYU.
A version of this article appeared on page 8 of April 7, 2014’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.