Struggling to find its identity as well as wins, the UCSB men’s volleyball team travels to Pauley Pavilion tonight at 7 to face #7 UCLA.
The Gauchos have lost five of their last six games and need a win to get back into the playoff race.
“I think it’s just gaining a little confidence and getting a win so the players feel like they are doing good things,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “It’s tough when you keep losing.”
The Bruins (4-5, 1-4 in the MPSF), losers of only seven matches last year, are coming into tonight’s match having lost three straight. UCLA has recently found a spark in junior quick hitter Chris Pena, who has registered 30 kills during the losing streak. The Bruins also feature seniors Scott Morrow, an all-league quick hitter, and setter Rich Nelson, a four-year starter.
“UCLA is a talented team, they get the picks of whoever they want. They are known for their blocking, although they weren’t doing it well against Northridge,” Preston said. “Right now they are running through players like we’re running through players; I don’t think they have a real, solid unit on the floor yet. They have drive from their program and historical aspect, but as far as having a group together since the fall like Irvine, it’s not the same.”
Tonight’s match is important for the two rival schools, as another conference loss would move either team further away from the postseason contention.
“We haven’t done anything consistently well all year,” sophomore libero Aaron Mansfield said. “I think we have a good group of guys in there now; we have a little more offensive firepower and I’m excited to play tomorrow at Pauley.”
In hopes of getting out of their recent funk, the Gauchos (3-8, 1-5) will change their lineup for tonight’s match. Sophomore outside hitter Matt Boelk and freshman setter Bart Kowalski will be inserted into the starting lineup, while junior middle blocker Justin Adams will be moved into the middle.
“The lineup change will give us a stronger arm at the opposite; Adams has been struggling at that position, I like him there blocking,” Preston said. “Both setters have improved tremendously since the beginning of the season; they are both going to be really good players for us. Bart is going to come in and play and we’ll see if there is a little more spunk out there.”