Thursday was Senior Night for the UCSB men’s volleyball team, but in spite of the emotional home finale for the Gauchos, someone forgot to tell Santa Barbara there was a game to be played.
Long Beach State, however, had no communication troubles.
What was meant to be a game to remember for the five Gaucho seniors, transformed into a nightmare they hope to soon forget.
UCSB (16-10, 11-10 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) dropped its second straight home match to LBSU in Rob Gym. The 49ers (13-17, 9-13 MPSF) shook off a rough first game to go on and win the next three convincingly, and finished the match by pounding the Gauchos in a 26-30, 30-26, 30-27, and 30-27 victory.
The match was crucial for Long Beach who went into the match needing a win to secure one of the last two remaining MPSF playoff spots. Just as important to LBSU is the longstanding rivalry that exists between the two beach schools. The 49ers hold the lifetime series lead with a 36-25 advantage over their northern counterparts. But the Gauchos had taken the previous two matches this year. UCSB knocked them out in a preseason tournament and then embarrassed LBSU by winning 3-1 in a lopsided victory on March 7. The 49ers responded to the pressure, and came out with fierce aggressiveness and emotional intensity.
“This was probably our best team performance of the year,” Long Beach State sophomore outside hitter Jeff Wootton said. “This was a great win for us.”
Four Long Beach State players posted double kill totals on the evening. Wootton led the charge with his match-high 21 kills. Junior setter Mark Ekins posted a match-high 72 assists and had a .667 hitting percentage. Sophomore outside hitter Scott Touzinsky hit for power and percentage, tallying 14 kills and a .667 mark.
The Gauchos were forced to deal with injury and illness in their last game at home. Senior outside hitter Andy Rivera battled a sore knee all night long, but still managed to garner a team-high 14 kills. Sophomore middle blocker Justin Adams didn’t practice much this week and overcame the flu to hit .706 and add 13 kills. Senior opposite Ben Koski, who is leading Santa Barbara in kills per game, could not even play in his last home game in a Gaucho uniform because of a sore back.
Despite the nagging problems though, UCSB played a sluggish game. The Gauchos lacked their usual enthusiasm that has been the cornerstone of their defensive game plan and just couldn’t find the rhythm to their offensive cadence.
“I don’t think we were mentally there,” junior outside hitter Keith Busam said. “You have to give them credit though. I think they served really well.”
Busam led a mid-match charge that was sparked by the emergence of the Santa Barbara bench. Along with Busam, UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston turned to freshman outside hitter Nathan Wack, senior outside hitter Alex Lienert and junior middle blocker Anders Bengtsson to revitalize a lethargic Santa Barbara squad.
“I always try to play with intensity out there,” Busam said. “Unfortunately it wasn’t enough.”
UCSB’s only remaining game is on Saturday night as the Gauchos take on Cal State Northridge on the road. The Gauchos will try to get back on track against the Matadors before the first round of the MPSF playoffs begin on April 20.