In this thriller, the sequel outlives the original as the Gauchos capture revenge against Stanford with an Oscar-winning performance.
Playing its best game of the season, the UCSB men’s volleyball team bulldozed over Stanford on Friday night in a three-game sweep. The #6 Cardinal, who were one of the pre-season favorites to win the Mountain Sports Federation Title, looked more like a struggling club team than the giant of sports and academia.
In one hour and twenty minutes, the Gauchos dismantled the Stanford machine and crushed them like a cheap aluminum can. UCSB topped Stanford 30-24, 30-22, 30-15 in front of 785 spectators at Rob Gym to keep its unblemished record at home alive.
“They beat us last time we played them,” senior setter Britt Galang said. “We needed to come back strong. There was a lot of energy on the court.”
With Friday’s win, UCSB (7-3, 4-3 MPSF) evened its season series record with Stanford. The Gauchos avenged a Jan. 27 loss to the Cardinal at Palo Alto. In its last meeting, Santa Barbara outplayed Stanford, but in the end it couldn’t stop junior outside hitter Curt Toppel from powering home 22 kills. In the second match, the Gauchos held Toppel to 10 kills, the only Stanford member to register double-digit kill totals on the evening.
Game one was the closest game of the match, with the two teams exchanging leads seven times. The Gauchos used the crowd’s enthusiasm to muster a commanding lead late in the game. The second game belonged entirely to Santa Barbara. UCSB was sparked by a five-point streak late in the game and punctuated by a monster kill at game point to secure the score by junior outside hitter Jan Carlo Zegarra.
The Cardinal never had a lead in the third game. Santa Barbara held Stanford to a paltry .071 hitting percentage, while the Gauchos finished the match brilliantly, killing 18 of their 26 touches. At match point, the Gaucho faithful were on their feet chanting “over-rated” to a familiar tune. Having lost to Stanford in Rob Gym last season, the crowd made sure they were the first to wish a fond farewell to the Cardinal.
“We played as a team tonight. We just kept the intensity up,” freshman libero Aaron Mansfield said. “The crowd helped a lot.”
The Gauchos jumped to a fast start behind freshman middle blocker Michael Kennedy and senior opposite Ben Koski. Kennedy, making his first start in a Gaucho uniform, powered home 10 kills while dominating the defensive end with his match-high 4 blocks, two more than the entire Stanford squad.
Koski was nearly perfect from the outside. The senior had a .800 hitting percentage. Koski and sophomore middle blocker Justin Adams both led the match in kills, tallying 12 each. UCSB had four players in double-digit kill totals and hit .489 on the evening. As for Kennedy, the freshman showed the Stanford lineup that he had something to prove.
“He played well – he’s an athletic guy,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “It was a good night for the Gauchos.”
UCSB resumes play this Wednesday, as the Gauchos travel to face Irvine in another MPSF rematch. UCSB handled the Anteaters convincingly on Jan. 18 at home by a score of 3-1. The Gauchos are confident that Friday’s success will translate into road productivity.