The UCSB men’s volleyball team rebounded on Saturday night from its two-game slump. The Gauchos, who have been consistent at Rob Gym until recently, ironically found their groove on the road against Cal State Northridge.
Santa Barbara overcame a shaky start to win its final match of the regular season in four games by a score of 31-29, 30-20, 27-30, 30-22.
UCSB senior outside hitter Andy Rivera led the way for the Gauchos. In his last regular season game in a Gaucho uniform, Rivera tallied a team-high 22 kills and posted a .429 hitting percentage. Sophomore middle blocker Justin Adams added 12 kills to the winning effort. Freshman outside hitter Nathan Wack played in all four games and contributed six kills on 13 attempts, good enough for a .385 hitting percentage. Another freshman, middle blocker Alejandro Parra, ignited the team’s spirits. Parra hit .500 and added nine kills.
“We started a couple of freshman guys,” Rivera said. “Alejandro really sparked us up. He played great.”
No. 8 CSUN (8-14, 10-18 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) sorely needed a win to improve its standing and maintain the final playoff spot in the MPSF playoffs.
CSUN senior outside hitter Eckard Walter posted a match-high 27 kills on 54 attempts. Walter’s aim went awry all night long, however. The All-American from Germany misfired constantly and ended the match with 12 hitting errors and just a .278 hitting percentage.
“He wasn’t as much of a factor as the Matadors needed him to be,” Rivera said.
The Matadors showed promise early, jumping out to a 14-7 lead in the first game. The Gauchos bounced back and tied the score at 24 apiece and eventually won the game. In game two, Northridge only scored 12 kills, habitually hitting errors, to end the game with a -.028 hitting percentage. The Matadors came out inspired in the third game. Walter located nine kills and the Matadors hit .371 to take game three 30-27. The Gauchos ended the match in the fourth game after they went on a 12-3 run.
Northridge is now 0-2 against the Gauchos this year. Santa Barbara beat the Matadors convincingly at Rob Gym on Jan. 16. Even though the Matadors lost the match to UCSB on Saturday, they will still make the playoffs. CSUN snagged eighth in the conference and will travel to Malibu to play No. 1 Pepperdine at Firestone Fieldhouse on April 20.
The playoff picture is now clear for the Gauchos. No. 6 UCSB (17-10, 12-10) will face No. 3 UCLA (25-6, 17-5) at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday. The Bruins clinched the third seed in the MPSF playoffs by holding off Irvine by a score of 3-1 on Friday. The Gauchos are 0-2 against UCLA this year. Santa Barbara lost a four-game match to the Bruins in Westwood on Feb. 19 and then again in Rob Gym on March 1. The second loss to UCLA was Santa Barbara’s first of the season at Rob Gym. The Bruins snapped the Gauchos’ 6-0 home record.
“We’ve seen them twice already this year,” senior setter Britt Galang said. “We know what we need to do. It’s just a matter of us, going out and doing it.”
Saturday’s appearance in the MPSF playoffs will mark the first time in four seasons that the Gauchos have extended the regular season. The Gauchos will have a week of rest to prepare for round three in the battle against the Bruins.
“We need a break physically,” Galang said. “But we are mentally ready.”