The road does not get any easier tonight for the #15 UCSB men’s volleyball team, which will host top-ranked Pepperdine at The Rob at 7.
The Gauchos enter the match as losers of four of their last five including two heartbreaking losses to Pacific and Stanford last week. Santa Barbara took early leads in both matches until hitting errors put the squad in a hole.
“I think we have been in 10 matches that went into the fourth and fifth games where our hitting has been below .200 in those games,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “I don’t know if the setters aren’t setting to the right guys, if our hitters aren’t good enough to have a good hitting percentage or if we are too predictable. In only two matches we have been fortunate enough to win in five.”
Despite the setbacks, Santa Barbara found a spark from sophomore outside hitter Adam Ulfers, who registered 33 kills Thursday against Pacific.
“It was his best performance he has ever had as a Gaucho,” Preston said, ” I would have liked to see him play a little better in the fourth and fifth; he hit for zero in those games. Maybe he got a little tired – he hasn’t hit that many balls in a long time – and then he really didn’t bounce back Saturday night. But other than that, he had a good weekend.”
Ulfers and the Gauchos will need all the help they can get tonight against a Pepperdine team that won 12 straight matches before losing to #2 Hawaii last Friday.
“Year in, year out, they are one of the best teams,” Preston said. “They are a very good blocking team so we have to pass the ball. If we don’t pass the ball, it’s going to be a very long night.”
Sophomore outside hitter Sean Rooney and junior outside hitter Fred Winters lead the Waves with 219 kills apiece in 2003, and Brad Keenan leads the team with 22 serving aces. Winters has already been named player of the week once this year. Pepperdine swept Santa Barbara at home on Jan. 23 behind 17 Rooney kills on a .556 hitting percentage.
“Pepperdine just brings three of the best hitters in the country in Keenan, Winters and Rooney,” Preston said.
Santa Barbara remains the only ranked team with a losing record and has fallen in the rankings each week since early February. The Gauchos have had only one win against a ranked opponent all year, and with six of their last 10 games coming against ranked opponents, UCSB must bank on upsets in order to squeak into the playoffs.