The #12 UCSB men’s volleyball team found out quickly why #1 Irvine is the top-ranked team in the nation.
The Anteaters easily disposed of the Gauchos in three games, 30-21, 30-25 and 30-26 at The Rob on Tuesday night.
“We have a lot of guys that contribute on our team,” UCI Head Coach John Speraw said. “I don’t think you can look at our team and know where the ball is going. It’s been a total team effort the whole way.”
The Anteaters took control in the middle of the first game, riding strong performances from junior outside hitter Jimmy Pelzel and junior setter David Kniffin, to take the game 30-21.
Game two was a seesaw battle that saw both teams trade points throughout the beginning of the game. The mid-game insertion of UCSB freshman setter Bart Kowalski into the lineup kept Irvine from seizing immediate control of the match. But Irvine refused to back down, and found breathing room late in the game to dart ahead 22-19.
Santa Barbara (3-8, 1-5 in the MPSF) came out with a vengeance in the third game, but Irvine showed why they deserved the top ranking. UCI responded to each Gaucho rally to seize control of the game. Sophomore middle blocker Michael Kennedy stuffed two consecutive blocks to put the Gauchos up 22-19, forcing Irvine to call a timeout.
“I just wanted to make sure they didn’t get down on themselves,” Speraw said. “We knew we weren’t playing as well as we could, that really got us down and I was like, ‘Guys, we’re up two games and we’re only down two points – we can do this. Let’s get out there and go finish this.’ And they just really responded to that.”
The Anteaters (12-1, 5-1) took their coach’s advice and bolted to a 28-23 lead en route to the match-deciding victory.
“I thought there was something in each game that kind of turned the tide, some little bonehead play we made,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “But for them to run five points on us when we were up at the end of the game is pretty discouraging.”
Senior outside hitter Monte Tucker led Irvine with 15 kills on a .609 hitting percentage. Tucker also contributed three block assists and one solo block. Pelzel added 10 kills and eight digs.
“I think [Pelzel] is one of the best opposites in the league, and obviously when you have somebody with that kind of offensive firepower its good for your team,” Speraw said.
Kennedy led UCSB with 11 kills hitting at a .733 percentage. Freshman setter Dane Jensen led the Gauchos with 20 assists. Kowalski added 16 assists. UCI outhit Santa Barbara in the match .430-.370, and outblocked UCSB 8-2.
Despite the three-game sweep, Santa Barbara stayed close in each game. Irvine capitalized on a few key breaks in each game to win.
“Good teams take advantage of that,” Preston said. “They came back and served very well at the end. They’re not flashy, they’re just a really good volleyball team.”
“They don’t make mistakes,” senior outside hitter Keith Busam said. “It’s discouraging to be there at the end and lose the match.”
Santa Barbara will now travel to Pauley Pavilion to battle UCLA at 7 p.m. on Friday.