The #1 team in the country felt like just playing three games against the Gauchos. And that’s just what they did.
Pepperdine swept the #15 UCSB men’s volleyball team 30-25, 30-26 and 30-26 on Wednesday night at The Rob.
Not at its best but still frustratingly dominant, Pepperdine exploited the proficiency of sophomore outside hitter Sean Rooney. Rooney tallied 21 kills and gave Santa Barbara problems all night.
“I’m glad he’s on our side,” Pepperdine Head Coach Marv Dunphy said.
In the third and last game, UCSB (6-15, 3-12 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) broke out to a 13-4 lead. In workmanlike fashion, the Waves (14-2, 12-1) inched their way back into the game, rebounding from the nine-point deficit to knot the score 21-21.
“They’re a good team, but when it comes to games, I think we kill ourselves,” freshman middle blocker Michael Kennedy said. “We get up by nine points right there and we shoot ourselves in the foot. We just lack consistency right now.”
Junior outside hitter Fred Winters bolstered the Waves with 13 kills. Winters, alongside Rooney, came on strongest when it counted.
“We battled hard and it was good to see that we could pull it out, even though we were down in game three,” Rooney said. “When you’re down by that much you know, you just have to get on a roll and it was cool to see us come back like that.”
Senior Outside hitter Jan Carlo Zegarra led Santa Barbara with 10 kills, all assisted by freshman setter Bart Kowalski, who totaled 42 assists.
The Pepperdine blockers flustered senior outside hitter Keith Busam, junior middle blocker Justin Adams and Kennedy – the Gauchos’ leading hitters – from start to finish. The trio finished with just seven kills apiece. Pepperdine’s human wall recorded 12.5 blocks while UCSB could manage only five.
“They’re blocking is exceptional – it always has been. They proved that tonight. They’re a good team and they’re deserving of being #1,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “They’re disciplined and they’re bigger and they have some outside hitters that can get them out of trouble. With Winters and Rooney, all they have to do is throw it up to them.”
Sophomore outside hitter Nate Wack provided a much-needed spark off the bench for the Gauchos with six kills and two aces in two games, despite an injured back. Wack’s play was something to be optimistic about on a night where UCSB’s hitting percentage dwindled below .200 (.189), while Pepperdine hit at a .324 clip.
“I thought Nate played a pretty good game, even though his back is hurting him,” Preston said. “I don’t know how he did it, but he played well.”
The Gauchos will try to crawl out of their slump when they host USC, a team that recently upset #4 Lewis and #6 Cal State Northridge, this Friday at 7 p.m. at The Rob.