The No. 8 UCSB men’s volleyball team opened its Mountain Pacific Sports Federation season with an impressive sweep over Cal State Northridge on Wednesday night.
The Gauchos (4-0, 1-0 MPSF) crushed the Matadors 30-23, 33-31, 30-24 to give UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston his 500th career victory. Senior outside hitter Andy Rivera led the way for Santa Barbara, tallying a team-high 13 kills and rallying his teammates with huge serves.
The Gauchos also received big games from senior opposite hitter Ben Koski and junior outside hitter Jan Carlo Zegarra who posted 11 and 10 kills, respectively. Preston was more concerned about his team’s performance than reaching personal milestones.
“We didn’t look past these guys,” Preston said. “I don’t particularly think we played a good match but we opened up league with a win.”
Having coached for 23 years and posting a 500-326 record, Preston took a modest approach to his milestone. “I figured it would come sooner or later,” he said.
The Gauchos started the game strong, winning the first game convincingly. In the second game, Santa Barbara ran into trouble.
Northridge sparked a comeback and got off to any early 11-6 lead. The Gauchos battled back late in the game and tied the score 30-30. Northridge’s star senior opposite Eckhard Walter then served the ball into the net. After the ensuing serve set the Matadors up for a kill, Koski made the biggest play of the game by leading a blocking wall of UCSB defenders.
After overcoming CSUN in the second game, the Gauchos never looked back. According to Koski, denying the Matadors a win in the second game was a huge factor in the final outcome. Santa Barbara went on to win in straight sets by easily outlasting the opponent.
With a long road ahead of them, the Gauchos understand the importance of getting off to a fast start in conference.
“We definitely wanted to start off the season with a win,” freshman libero Aaron Mansfield said. “It’s just nice to win in three and be out.”
Cal State Northridge came into the contest hoping for different results. Walter did his best to help his team sneak out a win on the road. Walter, a native of Berlin, Germany, recorded a game-high 17 kills, despite not seeing as much action as the Matadors might have hoped.
“We knew a lot of ball were going to go to him,” Koski said. “We faced him before so we kind of worked on it a bit at practice. I think [our] tough serves made it hard for him to get to the ball.”
Santa Barbara has a day off before they resume conference play against No. 7 Irvine on Friday night at 7 at home. When the Gauchos and Anteaters tip off Friday night, the two teams will both try to retain their unblemished records.
UCSB leads the all-time series 24-2. The game will also be the last home game for the Gauchos until they return from their long road trip on Feb. 8 to Stanford.
“It should be tough,” Koski said. “They are a really solid team and have a lot of ball control. We are going to have to play really disciplined volleyball and hopefully we will come out on top.”