The No. 8 UCSB men’s volleyball team takes its hot streak to San Diego and Irvine this weekend to take on UCSD on Friday night and No. 3 UCI Saturday night. The Gauchos (10-5, 6-5) will be looking to add to their four match-winning streak against the Tritons (2-13, 0-10), who are still looking for their first win in MPSF play this season, and the highly ranked Anteaters (14-3, 9-2).
“We are treating every point like it’s the most valuable point,” redshirt sophomore outside hitter Jacob Delson said. “Hopefully we won’t be too tired from Friday’s match and we will be able to turn it around for a good UCI squad.”
Coming into the weekend, Santa Barbara has won 11 straight games with victories over No. 10 Long Beach State, No. 9 UCLA, No. 7 USC and Cal Baptist. The Gauchos are currently in sixth place in the MPSF conference as they approach the halfway point in their season. They will hope to continue their winning ways and build momentum as they make a push towards the top of both league and national rankings.
Redshirt senior outside hitter Weston Nielson hit .405 with 24 kills last week in two matches combined. He has been hitting on the right side in multiple rotations during the last couple of matches and the switch has opened up the offense and given him more opportunities for kills.
The switch also allows redshirt senior opposite/outside hitter Kevin Donohue to get more swings from the left side, and he leads the team with 3.83 kills/set. Redshirt senior middle blocker Jake Staahl has been a dominant force at the net and he leads the MPSF conference with a .471 hitting percentage.
UCSD is an extremely young team with zero seniors, three juniors and just six returners who saw court time last season. Redshirt freshman opposite Tanner Syftestad leads the team with 140 kills this season for 2.92 kills/set. He also is first on the team with 39 total blocks this season. Sophomore middle blocker Shayne Beamer leads the team with a .254 hitting percentage and is second on the team in blocks, while true freshman libero Tyler Bird is third in the MPSF and 11th nationally in digs per set with 2.37.
The match against UCI will be one of the toughest for the Gauchos so far this season. The Anteaters have won five straight matches and they have the second best record in the MPSF conference. Sophomore outside hitter Tamir Hershko leads a well-rounded offense in kills, ranking second both in the MPSF conference and nationally. He is also second in conference with 4.51 points per set.
Senior libero Michael Brinkley was an AVCA First Team All-American in 2014. UCI plays No. 9 UCLA at home on Friday night before hosting the Gauchos the next night.
“We feel good but Irvine is a tough opponent,” junior setter Jonah Seif said. “We are confident, but definitely not cocky coming into these matches.”
The Gauchos take on the Tritons at 7 p.m. tomorrow night in La Jolla and the Anteaters at 7 p.m. Saturday in Irvine.
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of February 26, 2015’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.