The UCSB men’s volleyball team can now take a sigh of relief as its losing streak is broken after managing to pull off an exciting comeback win as it defeated UC Irvine for the upset in the last home game of the regular season.
UCSB now stands at a .500 win percentage with their 11-11 split record, and more important is 4-5 in conference play. The Gauchos also now find themselves in fourth place in the Big West Conference standings, with just one game, left away in Irvine, before the postseason tournament seeding begins.
This match was potentially the closest one of the entire year, as the first four sets of the night all resulted in scores of 25-23.
The first set went to the visitors as the Gauchos gave up an early lead. Following an Anteater service error, the Gauchos put up three back to back kills and managed to bring it within two before falling just short.
The following set then featured a victorious performance by Santa Barbara as the tables had turned and Irvine was in catch up mode for most of it. Ultimately, another closely battled set resulted in the 1-1 tie on the night.
Concerning the first half of play, head coach Rick McLaughlin was very happy with the teams’ effort.
“It was a battle; the first four games were all 23-25,” McLaughlin said. “Either way, when we were down, our guys just played hard in the end and just did a good job.”
The third set of the night was perhaps the closest of the entire match as either side’s advantage was never greater than 3 throughout it all. Regardless, UCSB fell late once more and the visitors were up again.
At this point, things were looking bleak for the good guys. However, the service errors and defensive mistakes started to accumulate for the visitors. Naturally, the Gauchos took advantage of this and another 25-23 performance win was just enough to complete the comeback and earn a fifth set.
The fifth set truly was a nail bitter as plenty was on the line for the hosts. The fans were chanting, momentum seemed to boom from the Gauchos, and it seemed almost like the perfect way to end the home closer: on a high note.
The beginning of the final set had the Gauchos leading, but always by only a couple scores. The score was soon 10-9, advantage UCI, and no one was certain exactly what way it would go.
Then came another three back to back scores for the home side and UCSB now looked fully in control. A pair of timeouts and two visiting service errors later, and the Gauchos had done it: an impressive finish against all odds.
“[Assistant Coach] Cullen Irons had a pretty good read on what he thought they were going to set, and he was on the mark every time,” McLaughlin said. “So we were able to make a plan for blocking, and our servers put great pressure on them. We’ll see what we can improve for the next game…and it’s sure to be another battle.”
After such an intense match, not only is the coach on edge but also the players.
“We have a team where pretty much any guy can come in and put up points…There was a lot of momentum, especially in those last three sets,” sophomore middle blocker Brandon Hopper said. “It was really nice to have the crowd, always great to have that…it gets everybody fired up, and we’re starting to get an energy going for ourselves.”
UCSB will now head down south the UCI for their final matchup of the regular season. It all starts this Saturday, April 14th, on the road at 7 PM.