Down 12-6 in the fourth set against UCLA, it seemed the Gauchos’ prosperous season was coming to a dead end. That was until former Bruin and current UCSB senior outside hitter Matt Hanley stepped up with the heart to send UCSB into a miracle comeback. With everything on the line, the No. 5 UCSB men’s volleyball team turned it around, defeating No. 9 UCLA in the MPSF Quarterfinals.
“It was awesome; having a crowd like that is huge for us, and it really made the difference. We felt like we had a chance the whole time, even being down by a lot in the fourth game,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said.
It was a picture perfect finish. Following their trend of flat starts that cursed the Gauchos all season, UCSB gave up set one to the Bruins 25-23 but came back strong and built momentum that would later lead to their fourth set turn around.
“The serve and pass was our number one thing all year,” Hanley said. “Tonight was a perfect example of that when we got it under control.”
It was a back and forth exchange of sets the entire match. UCLA took the first, but UCSB rebounded defeating the Bruins 25-20 in the second. Senior opposite Evan Licht opened the second set on the right foot, pounding a kill to take the first point. A strong offensive push from Licht in combination with back-to-back UCLA attack errors were exactly what the Gauchos needed after coming out flat. Licht led the Gauchos with 17 kills on the night.
The third set shifted back and resulted in another UCLA win at 25-18. The Gauchos fell behind early in the set 8-7 and were unable to regain the lead afterwards. UCLA’s senior outside hitter Gonzalo Quiroga turned up the UCLA offense, ending the night with a team-high 18 kills.
The fourth set was the game changer for UCSB. Down 12-6 to the Bruins, Coach McLaughlin called a timeout that would change the course of the game.
“That fourth game was all heart: It was six guys with a will to win,” Hanley said. “There is no way we could have done it without every single guy out there.”
A combined block from sophomore setter Jonah Seif and junior middle blocker Jake Staahl, and a solo block from senior middle blocker Ryan Thompson walled the UCLA attack, giving the Gauchos the taste of momentum they needed. An attack error from UCLA’s senior opposite Spencer Rowe tied the game at 17-17. Hanley and redshirt junior outside hitter Weston Nielsen took control over the set with two kills apiece, ending the set in a 25-20 UCSB victory.
A close fifth set marked by six different tied scores sealed the UCSB comeback. Licht started the UCSB rhythm with a service ace that led to a four-point run. A suiting finish to the UCSB and UCLA matchup, Hanley contributed to the last two points of the game that would secure a 15-12 victory over his former team.
UCSB will continue their MPSF playoff run on Thursday in a match against BYU. Thursday’s match is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. and will be televised on BYU TV.
A version of this article appeared on page 8 of April 21, 2014′s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Cameryn Brock of The Daily Nexus.