By Matt Faust
The first win is always the hardest to get.
The UCSB men’s volleyball team (3-5, 1-2) were finally able to post their first victory in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play Saturday night at USC (1-5, 0-3), winning in three games, 30-28, 30-25, 30-22.
“It was a big positive for our team in getting off the loss column,” senior outside hitter Keith Busam said. “Our goal is to get into the playoffs and we figured we needed seven wins to get in. This is one of the seven wins we needed.”
Busam led the Gauchos with 11 kills on a .500 hitting percentage. Sophomore outside hitter Nate Wack followed with nine kills, and junior middle blocker Justin Adams and sophomore middle blocker Michael Kennedy each garnered eight apiece.
“The only reason I had more kills was because I had better opportunities than everyone,” Busam said. “Kennedy and [sophomore middle blocker Alejandro] Parra were awesome in the middle, and I was able to get one on one, and we should be able to put that away everyday, all day.”
Freshman setter Dane Jensen, who has emerged as the squad starter at a setter position that was up for grabs at the beginning of the year, led the Gauchos in assists with 37.
Sophomore libero Aaron Mansfield scrambled all over on defense, posting eight digs, followed by Busam with seven.
“[Head Coach] Kenny [Preston] thought we served well and dug more balls,” Adams said. “We followed the game plan. Kenny took over an hour giving us the scouting report and we are starting to respond well to them.”
The Gauchos came out of the gates with a vengeance, quickly tallying an 11-3 lead over the Trojans in the first game. USC would battle back to cut the lead to 13-10, but Santa Barbara held off the rally to take the first game 30-28.
The Trojans then quickly went up 5-1 in the second game, only to have Santa Barbara rally back to tie the game at 6-6, behind two consecutive kills from Busam. The rest of the game was a seesaw battle until the Gauchos pulled away late behind the efforts of Busam and Kennedy. In the third game, UCSB rode two stretches in which they accumulated four unanswered points, to take the third game 30-22.
“It was great to get a win; Kenny gave us a great inspirational speech before the game and we had a hard practice the day before,” Adams said. “He told us, USC and us are a lot alike – we both are trying to find the character of our team; show me which team has the bigger and better character.”
Southern California junior opposite Ian Gallagher had a match-high 13 kills while senior middle blocker Josh Day had 11 kills and a .917 hitting percentage for the match. Freshman libero Joao Grangiero also had a match-best 14 digs for the Trojans.
UCSB out-hit USC .327 to .255 overall, a vast improvement from Thursday’s loss at Pepperdine. Kennedy and Jensen led the way in blocks for the Gauchos, tallying six and five apiece. As a team, Santa Barbara out-blocked USC for the match, 10.0 to 4.5.
“We received serves better than we have and we were able to apply pressure from the service line. Serving and passing are the key to winning in volleyball, and Saturday night we did both well,” Busam said.
UCSB will now play at home for the first time in five games this Friday when the Gauchos take on Pacific in a rematch of their first-round game in the UCSB/Ebar Invitational. The Gauchos took that match in five games, 30-27, 30-28, 22-30, 22-30, 15-12.
“Any win is a huge win and hopefully this will springboard us,” Adams said.