Los Angeles-In NBA playoff history, only one team has come back from a two-game deficit on the road to win a five-game series. Similarly, the UCSB men’s volleyball team realized just how difficult such a comeback must be.
The No. 6 Gaucho men’s volleyball team, winners of three straight sweeps, traveled to UCLA on Wednesday evening, hoping momentum would propel them ahead of the No. 1 Bruins.
Any momentum Santa Barbara gathered withered in Pauley Pavillion. Despite having five Gauchos in double-digit kill totals, UCSB succumbed to UCLA by a score of 30-26, 30-24, 25-30, 35-33.
“We were really undisciplined,” freshman libero Aaron Mansfield said. “You can’t get down against a team like [UCLA] at the beginning and expect to win.”
Despite losing the first two games sluggishly, the Gauchos mounted a steady comeback in the third game. The emotional fury of senior outside hitter Andy Rivera sparked Santa Barbara right back into the thick of the match.
UCSB retained its vigor in the fourth game. The Gauchos jumped out to a substantial 17-11 lead in game four behind the defensive intensity they had been lacking earlier in the match. The stage was apparently set for a fifth and deciding game.
Then, the Bruins countered.
Responding to the home-court enthusiasm, UCLA caught Santa Barbara and surged ahead 29-28. UCLA outside hitter David Russell, making his first appearance of the match, hit an untimely error to give the Gauchos another shot. Facing another match-point down 30-29, freshman middle blocker Michael Kennedy fought off the Bruins by powering home his 13th kill of the night, avoiding defeat yet again.
Finally at 34-33, the third match-point of the game, UCLA ended the marathon by slamming a kill across the net.
“We just needed to start stronger,” junior outside hitter Jan Carlo Zegarra said. “The energy wasn’t there.”
The win should be enough for UCLA (13-2, 8-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) to remain in first place after their 10-match winning streak was snapped by Stanford on Feb. 16. The road woes continued to haunt UCSB, which fell to 1-4 away from Rob Gym.
Santa Barbara was on par with UCLA on the stat sheet. The Gauchos had 74 kills in comparison to 66 for the Bruins. The difference, however, was the 35 UCSB errors that habitually plagued their comeback.
Rivera led the way for Santa Barbara, by tallying a team-high 18 kills. Senior outside hitter Alex Lienert asserted himself as a consistent threat all night long. Lienert and sophomore middle blocker Justin Adams notched 13 kills each. Adams’ .565 hitting percentage was a match-high while he continually stepped up the pressure on the defensive end.
UCSB returns home to host Santa Cruz tonight at 7. Tonight’s non-conference contest will be another viable test for the Gauchos who hope to keep their perfect record at home intact.