The UCSB men’s volleyball team started the 39th annual UCSB/Elephant Bar Volleyball Invitational with a bang on Friday night, upsetting Pacific at Rob Gym.
The Gauchos finished with more of a whimper, however, suffering two tough defeats to finish fourth in the tournament.
“If you had told us at the beginning of the week we would come in fourth, we would have been happy,” senior outside hitter Keith Busam said. “We beat a very good UOP team and it made our expectations go higher, so we were a little disappointed when we lost the two games Saturday; but I thought we played well.”
In its first match of the regular season, sixth seeded UCSB upset the #3 Tigers in five games. Santa Barbara hurried out to a quick two game lead over Pacific, winning 30-27 and 30-28. But the Tigers refused dealing with the humiliation of being swept and fought back to win the next two games handily 30-22, 30-22.
The final game was neck and neck throughout, until the Gauchos pulled away for the final points in a 15-12 victory. Sophomore outside hitter Matt Boelk led Santa Barbara with a match-high 18 kills. Sophomore libero Aaron Mansfield recorded 13 digs for the Gauchos, and freshman setter Dane Jensen had 56 assists for the match.
“We came back from a deficit our first two matches Friday night, and then [Pacific] came back,” said UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston. ” We didn’t pass very well; but then we passed well in the fifth [game], and it was a good five-game win.”
With the win, Santa Barbara advanced to the championship bracket and faced UC Irvine in the second round. Earlier, the Anteaters had upset second seeded Stanford.
Irvine (5-0) defeated Santa Barbara in five games to advance to the championship match. The Anteaters took their momentum seized from the upset of the Cardinal to claim the first game against UCSB 30-23. The two teams played three hard-fought games with the Gauchos taking the second and fourth games 30-28 and 30-27, and Irvine taking the third 30-27.
In the deciding game, Irvine took control of the game early and didn’t let up, winning 15-7. Irvine went on to defeat UCLA in the championship match, taking the tournament. With the loss, UCSB faced Cal State Northridge in the third place match.
“It’s always good to go the distance with a good team. They’ve shown that they are the best team right now, but in all reality, Irvine is not a team that is going to contend for the national championship,” Busam said. “They are not going to get any better than they are now, and we played well against them, so there are lots of good things ahead for us.”
In the third place match, Northridge took control early and defeated Santa Barbara in four games. Santa Barbara started the first game hot only to lose control and finally fall 30-26. The Gauchos came out sizzling again in the second game, this time bolstered by a strong outing from sophomore middle blocker Michael Kennedy, and captured the second game 30-24.
But the game two win would be the lone bright spot on the night for the Gauchos, who dropped the next two games 34-32 and 31-29. Santa Barbara finished the tournament in fourth.
Irvine defeated the Bruins (21-30, 30-26, 30-18, 36-38, 17-15) to capture the tournament. UCI improved to 5-0 on the season, the best start in the program’s history. UCLA took second place, followed by CSUN, UCSB, Long Beach State, Stanford, USC and Pacific. UCSB (1-2) entered the match seeded sixth, so its fourth place finish was a reason to be pleased.
“Overall, I’m pretty pleased with what went on. I thought both setters [Jensen and freshman Bart Kowalski] had their moments. Dane did a nice job, but they are both young guys. We are going to find some inexperience there, and it showed at certain times,” Preston said. “Hopefully, we’re ready for the season. We start league Wednesday night.”
The Gauchos will travel to Northridge to face CSUN this Wednesday at 7 p.m.