It’s hard to predict how a team will do when its chemistry is suddenly altered near the end of the season, but that is exactly the predicament facing the #9 UCSB men’s volleyball team.

A key component of the #7 USC men’s volleyball team, senior 2000 All-American outside hitter Eli Fairfield, recently left the team for personal reasons. Whatever the explanation may be, Santa Barbara isn’t complaining.

The Gauchos (11-11 overall, 4-11 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) hope to take advantage of the void in the Trojans’ (15-9, 10-6) lineup tonight in UCSB’s final home match of the season.

“We want to finish off the season strong,” junior outside hitter Andy Rivera said. “It will be a good game and we hope that a lot of people come out to watch us play.”

Santa Barbara’s recent losses to #4 Stanford (12-7, 8-6) and Pacific (10-11, 6-9) knocked it out of the running for the upcoming MPSF Tournament. USC, on the other hand, recently beat #6 Pepperdine to clinch a spot. But that doesn’t mean that the Gauchos don’t intend to end the season with a bang.

“Everyone is playing now for pride,” junior opposite hitter Alex Lienert said. “We lost to them earlier this season in five games so we’re fired up to beat them this match.”

UCSB fell to the Trojans earlier this season on February 10 in a hotly contested match. USC out-hit the Gauchos .331-.235 the first time around, but Santa Barbara bested USC in blocks, posting 19 rejections to USC’s 10.5. The match was eventually decided in the fifth game, when UCSB succumbed to the Trojans, who went on a late four-point run to gain control of the game.

Southern Cal’s junior 2000 All-American opposite hitter Brooke Billings led the team to victory with 20 kills, eight blocks and eight digs earlier this season. UCSB sophomore outside hitter Ben Koski, who led the Gauchos that evening with 17 kills and five blocks, has a grudge against the junior and is ready for some payback.

“I’ve been playing against [Billings] my whole career,” Koski said. “We went to rival high schools. I went to Santa Barbara High and Brooke went to San Marcos High. It was always Brooke, Brooke, Brooke when I played against him – I’ve always wanted to beat him.”

Koski and the rest of the Gauchos will look to exact some revenge from the Trojans tonight in the Thunderdome at 7:05.