The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament is right around the corner, and the #9 UCSB men’s volleyball team hasn’t gotten on the bandwagon yet.
The Gauchos (11-9, 4-9) have experienced a wave of ups and downs this season, leaving the team a few wins shy of a playoff seed. With only four games remaining in Santa Barbara’s regular season, this weekend’s two MPSF matches against #4 Stanford (11-7, 7-6) Friday and #12 Pacific (8-11) Saturday are critical.
“We can’t expect to hit from all cylinders if we’re not playing with heart and motivation,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “These upcoming matches are critical. We need seven wins to qualify for the tournament and we have four matches left.”
UCSB had its four-match winning streak snapped by Long Beach State on Tuesday, but the Gauchos believe the loss was a valuable learning experience.
“The whole team needs to be on the same page and we haven’t been,” freshman middle blocker Justin Adams said. “Everything that happens now is falling on our shoulders. Everyone has to come ready to play.”
First up this weekend for Santa Barbara is the fourth-ranked Cardinal, which recently solidified the seventh of eight playoff seeds. However, Stanford has been in a rut recently, falling to #1 BYU in its second straight three-game loss. UCSB knows just how good Stanford can be, as it fell to the Cardinal 3-1 earlier this season.
“Stanford has [sophomore opposite] Curt Toppell, who leads the league in kills per game,” Adams said. “We need to serve well and play good defense. Our offense will fall into place if we do those things.”
Saturday’s match against the UOP will be no walk in the park either. The Gauchos lost to the Tigers 3-0 earlier this season. Pacific is coming off a dramatic 3-2 win over BYU, in which sophomore outside hitter Aaron Wachtfogal notched a career-high 29 kills and 9 digs.
Despite the daunting opposition, Santa Barbara is no pushover by any stretch of the imagination. UCSB is currently ranked fourth in the MPSF in blocking, averaging 5.84 per game. Santa Barbara also houses a plethora of strong players, including sophomore opposite Ben Koski, whose steady hand has earned him .474 service aces per game, good for 12th in the NCAA.
Despite impressive statistics, the Gauchos know that they will have to lay it all on the line this weekend.
“These last few games we’re going to go balls out. I won’t be satisfied until we make the finals,” junior outside hitter Andy Rivera said. “We’ve been streaking. We’ll dominate for a few weeks and then we can’t win a game. We have to concentrate on executing and playing our best game and not worrying about what the other team is doing.”