After losing recent battles in faraway lands, the UCSB men’s volleyball team will now go to war with the Trojans and try to steer clear of the swell of the Waves.
The Gauchos continue their road trip tonight when #7 Santa Barbara (5-2, 2-2 MPSF) takes on #14 USC (4-5, 1-2 MPSF) in the Trojan’s North Gym. The Gauchos, who lost road games to Pacific and Stanford this past weekend, dropped one spot in the latest USA Today/AVCA coaches poll. The Trojans are coming off a dominating performance against non-conference opponent, Cal Baptist on Jan. 22, when USC swept the defending NAIA champions by a score of 30-21, 30-16, 30-28.
USC controls the lifetime-series edge over Santa Barbara with a 42-31 advantage. The Trojans are historically tough at home, posting a 212-62 lifetime record there. USC’s three returning starters from the 2001 squad, outside hitter Brook Billings, middle blocker Josh Day and setter Miles McGann have all contributed to the Trojans’ success. Against Cal Baptist, Billings led the Trojans by recording 16 match-high kills while Day hit .571 and notched a match-best five blocks. In the CBU game, the Trojans out-served the Lancers in aces 8-0 while out-digging them 24-14.
The Gauchos will come at USC with a threat of their own. Senior stars outside hitter Andy Rivera and opposite hitter Ben Koski have been lighting up opponents recently. Rivera, who recorded a team-high 13 kills on Sunday against Stanford, has 84 kills altogether, tops on the squad. Koski has tallied 75 kills this season and has consistently made big plays at opportune moments.
UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston has been shaking up the lineup as of late, getting more players involved in the action. Freshman middle blocker Michael Kennedy played in all four games against Stanford and made quite a contribution, tallying eight kills and four blocks. Preston knows that the MPSF schedule is long and that success will require a complete team effort.
After tonight’s match against USC, the Gauchos will need to play one more match on the road before they can return home. On Friday night, Santa Barbara will face off against #3 Pepperdine (8-2, 3-0 MPSF). Even though, UCSB defeated the Waves in four games back on Jan. 7 at Firestone Fieldhouse, Pepperdine has since rattled off five straight wins, including three in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference. In the past five matches, the Waves have dropped only one game, while defeating the likes of UCLA, Long Beach State and UC Irvine.
The Gauchos will return home after Friday’s match ready for a long-awaited week of break. After its next two matches, Santa Barbara will have a chance to give some pay back on Feb. 8when the Gauchos face off against Stanford at Rob Gym.