The #6 UCSB men’s volleyball team will face its biggest challenge yet, having swept through its first five games – the road.
The undefeated Gauchos will pack their bags for a matchup at the University of Pacific tonight. After Friday night’s game, Santa Barbara will have a day of rest before its highly anticipated contest against #2 Stanford on Sunday night.
Santa Barbara (5-0, 2-0 MPSF) will face Pacific at 7 tonight at the Alex G. Spanos Center. One can expect that the Gauchos will enforce their recent momentum to their advantage against the struggling Tigers.
Pacific (1-4, 0-1 MPSF) is coming into tonight’s game playing the role of the underdog. The slow start for the Tigers is partially the result of an extremely rigorous schedule. On January 15, Stanford swept them. Last week, Pacific traveled to face #5 BYU in back-to-back days. The Tigers kept each game close against the Cougars but ultimately lost both matches in four games.
The Tigers potentially can cause a lot of damage, however. Four players are averaging three kills per game or more, while the defense has consistently out-hustled its opponent, tallying 9.7 digs per game and a staggering 46.5 blocks total. Martin Berntsen leads Pacific with 3.71 kills per contest, while setter Cris Tamas is averaging 14.5 assists per contest.
The Gauchos have done a fair amount of damage themselves this year. Winning five straight matches, Santa Barbara is the only team with a flawless conference record. And the Gauchos have won impressively. UCSB has only given up a total of four games to its oppontents in five matches. Senior opposite hitter Ben Koski is leading Santa Barbara with 67 kills and averaging 4.19 per game, while senior setter Britt Galang has tallied 256 assists. Senior outside hitter Andy Rivera has been on fire lately. Rivera has 67 kills total and contributed 13 kills to last Friday’s victory over Irvine.
After tonight’s match, Santa Barbara will need to get ready for Stanford (3-1, 2-1 MPSF). The Gauchos will try to avenge a loss they suffered at home in front of a sell-out crowd. BYU defeated Stanford last Friday and handed the Cardinal its first loss of the season. Stanford will come out ready to play on Sunday.
Junior opposite hitter Curt Toppel leads the attack for Stanford. Toppel is coming off a 32-kill performance against BYU and is looking to add to his team-high 81 kills this season. Stanford is also getting solid play from senior Marcus Skacel, who led the team last year with 149 digs and finished second in kills, blocks and service aces. Last year, it was Skacel who hammered the Gauchos with his 20 kills. Santa Barbara knows that it must contain him this year if the Gauchos have hopes of knocking off the Cardinal.
Assuming that UCSB is victorious against Pacific, the game against Stanford will be the biggest game of the season for both teams. The winner will maintain the upper hand in the most competitive conference in NCAA men’s volleyball. In the latest USA Today poll, Mountain Pacific Sports Federation teams currently hold ten of the 15 available spots.
In a conference so heavily stacked, Santa Barbara will value each win.