Bad blood spilled all over the floor of Rob Gym on Wednesday night and the UCSB men’s volleyball team took its hated rival USC to the woodshed, making sure there was no trace of life left.
The Gauchos (16-8, 11-8 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) rolled up their sleeves and swept the Trojans in just an hour and 20 minutes by a score of 30-23, 30-23, 30-27. The win ensures Santa Barbara a playoff birth in the MPSF Tournament. UCSB has not made the playoffs the past three seasons. UCSB was giddy after the sweep.
“We knew that if we won this match that we would be in the playoffs, so it was enough of an incentive for us to win,” freshman middle blocker Michael Kennedy said. “All we need is five straight wins after that and we have a championship ring.”
Winning its last two matches at Rob Gym, Santa Barbara increased its season record at home to an astounding 9-2 mark.
Looking extremely confident in the opening game, Santa Barbara stretched a mid-game close affair into a seven-point pounding. In the second game, the Trojans never led. Kennedy lobbed the ball from the service line with surprising success, making the floaters look like butterflies to the Trojan soft defense. The game remained close in the third game, until match-point when 487 faithful fans at Rob Gym rose to their feet and simultaneously clapped to the beat of victory.
“We’re getting on a roll,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “Right now, we just want to get better and better over the next three matches.”
After running a majority of its plays at senior opposite Ben Koski for much of the time during its trip to Provo last week, UCSB came out looking to distribute the wealth of looks. Five Gauchos finished the match with eight or more kills.
Koski led the way by nailing 13 home. Sophomore middle blocker Justin Adams and senior outside hitter Andy Rivera added nine kills to the squad’s 50-kill total. Kennedy and junior outside hitter Jan Carlo Zegarra added eight each and hit .429 and .462, respectively.
Zegarra also helped lead the way by posting nine match-high digs, to help UCSB’s defense. Santa Barbara out-blocked the Trojans 10.5-3 and forced 11 more hitting errors by the kids from Los Angeles. The Gauchos hit .443 on the evening and allowed just a .209 hitting percentage by USC.
With last night’s win, the Gauchos evened the lifetime season record between the two schools while waving goodbye to USC senior outside hitter and Santa Barbara native Brook Billings for the last time. Billings paced the Trojans with 13 kills, but he hit just .250 percent. Senior opposite Beau Rawi added 11 kills and hit a consistent .471 for his side of the net.
UCSB will host No. 1 Pepperdine on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Waves are riding high on a nine-match winning streak, extending its overall record to 21-4 and its MPSF record to 16-2. The Gauchos will have to stop freshman outside hitter Sean Rooney from catching fire. Rooney was recently recognized as the MPSF Player of the Week. The Waves defeated then No. 1 UCLA on March 30.
“They’re really a fine team,” Preston said. “What we have to do is play really loose and not worry.”