While uninspired students drag their bodies out of bed and slide lethargically into class after a spring fever, the UCSB men’s volleyball team is ecstatic just being home.
The Gauchos returned to Santa Barbara after a week on the road with a cold and a two-game choke.
No. 5 UCSB (15-7, 10-7 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) will try to rebound from a dry spell against USC tonight at 7 in Rob Gym. Santa Barbara is coming off two consecutive 3-0 sweeps to No. 4 BYU on March 28-29 in Provo, Utah. As for tonight’s matchup, the Gauchos understand the importance of every game, since playoffs are around the corner.
“It will be important to get back on track for the playoffs and get into the role of things,” junior middle blocker Anders Bengtsson said. “USC had a bad season, so they have nothing to lose.”
The Trojans have indeed struggled lately. USC comes into tonight’s match after No. 1 UCLA drilled the Trojans 30-24, 30-24, 30-24 on March 27 at the USC Lyon Center. USC’s 5-19 start is the worst in team history. The Trojans have only two wins in MPSF play and are sorely looking for a win against Santa Barbara.
USC star Brook Billings led the way for the Trojans with a game-high 10 kills but hit only .080 after misfiring eight costly errors against UCLA. Hitting just .185 and .156 in games two and three, the Trojans finished the match with a .214 hitting percentage.
The Trojans will need to get more production from role players if they plan on upending Santa Barbara. The Gauchos lead the MPSF with a .388 hitting percentage and are looking to overcome their .256 mark in their last game against BYU. In the losing effort, senior opposite Ben Koski led the way with a match-high 21 kills while hitting .469. Senior outside hitter Andy Rivera followed the lead, contributing 13 kills to the effort.
Tonight’s game is crucial and is certainly a must-win for the Gauchos, who are looking to surge into the MPSF playoffs with a full head of steam. Santa Barbara maintains the sixth-best record in the MPSF and is the highest ranked team that has yet to clinch a playoff berth into the eight-team playoff tournament. While being sixth in the MPSF, UCSB is ranked fifth in the AVCA national poll. Stanford posts a better record, but are in seventh place.
“We just need to come out really aggressive,” freshman middle blocker Michael Kennedy said of the match against USC tonight. “We need to come out strong and finish strong.”
With just four games remaining in the regular season, Santa Barbara knows the meaning of crunch time. After tonight’s match, the Gauchos will play host to No. 2 Pepperdine on Saturday evening in Rob Gym.