Back home from America’s heartland, the #12 UCSB men’s volleyball team treks to Malibu tonight at 7 to face #9 Pepperdine at Firestone Fieldhouse.
After splitting two games over the weekend against Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, the Gauchos hope their slide is over after faltering in three of the last four matches. The Waves are no slouches, however.
“Pepperdine is a hard one to play,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “It depends on how we go in and how we play. They’re struggling a little bit with the setting position, but I think they’re all tough. Our league is not a cakewalk. It’s one of the toughest games of the year.”
Pepperdine (4-1) features some of the best talent in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. Sophomore outside hitter Sean Rooney leads the Waves with 57 kills, followed by junior outside hitter Fred Winters with 51. Sophomore setter John Mayer has tallied 154 assists and senior middle blocker Brad Keenan leads the team with six service aces.
“You’ve got Brad Keenan who is one of the best players in the country, Fred Winters who’s really a good outside hitter and Sean Rooney, along with Keenan, is probably going to be on the national team,” Preston said.
Much like IPFW in its 3-0 win over UCSB last Sunday, Pepperdine will rely on powerful servers to take control of the game.
“We weren’t passing or receiving serves real well back at IPFW in the second game and Pepperdine just tees off from the service line,” Preston said. “If we pass the ball well I think we can be in the game with them; if we don’t then we’re going to struggle.”
Coming off a split at IPFW, the Gauchos (2-4) hope to take some momentum into Malibu.
“We’re starting to come together as a team right now. It gets frustrating with losing, but I think in being so young we’re always positive and that is one of our strongest assets,” senior outside hitter Keith Busam said. “Every day we come into the gym and are looking to improve.”
The Gauchos will have to continue their progress on the road once again. Santa Barbara has not played at home since the UCSB/E-Bar Invite two weeks ago.
“[Playing on the road] will help us more than hurt us. Everybody thinks that it’s easier at home with the fan support, but men’s volleyball doesn’t get much support, anyway,” junior middle blocker Justin Adams said.
Sophomore outside hitter Nate Wack, senior outside hitter Anders Bengtsson, sophomore middle blocker Michael Kennedy and Adams all reached double figures in kills in the two matches against IPFW. The key to the game will be how the Gauchos respond to the Waves’ strong middle.
“I think we have a great middle and Pepperdine probably has the best middle in the nation,” Adams said. “But pound for pound I think we match up well.”