While UCSB bicyclists struggle with the wind, the UCSB men’s volleyball team lounges on pristine beaches in Hawaii. But a dose of relaxation may be just the ticket the team needs for revenge.
The Gauchos will play Hawaii tonight at 7 in the Stan Sheriff Center with a chance to defeat a team that knocked UCSB out of the playoffs last year, as well as enact a small measure of revenge to the Benedict Arnold of the Santa Barbara men’s volleyball program.
“Hawaii is always a big game,” senior outside hitter Keith Busam said. “And a big reason for that is because Nordberg is here.”
Gone but not forgotten by many of the current players is Brian Nordberg, the former Gaucho who spurned his teammates after lettering for two seasons. After transferring to Hawaii, Nordberg helped the Warriors win a national championship last year.
“I’m not upset,” sophomore libero Aaron Mansfield said. “I don’t want anybody on the team that doesn’t want to play for us. I’m pretty happy he left. He was a big reason why we didn’t have a lot of team chemistry.”
Santa Barbara catches the defending national champs at the worst time: The Rainbow Warriors have won their last nine games. Hawaii features Costas Theocharidis, who leads the NCAA with 5.59 kills per game. UCSB must also watch Delano Thomas, who hits at a .446 clip, averages 1.33 blocks per game and has knocked down 35 aces.
The Warriors have already clinched a spot in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs, and the game gives the Gauchos a chance to play some of their younger talent.
“The younger guys should feel no pressure,” UCSB Assistant Coach Todd Rogers said. “We should go out and hit the ball around and see if we can’t screw up Hawaii’s season. Maybe they drop a seed or we put them on the tank downward.”
Santa Barbara enters the game winners of two of its last three games. Freshman setter Bart Kowalski has been impressive, posting 712 assists in 66 games and ranking 7th in the MPSF for aces and 9th in assists.
Sophomore middle blocker Michael Kennedy leads the team with 213 kills and is tied for the team-high lead in blocks of 84 with junior middle blocker Justin Adams. Mansfield leads the defense for the Gauchos, with 222 digs and a dig average that places him 6th in the NCAA.
“We’re playing for pride now,” Adams said, “It’s hard knowing that we have been out of it, but we need to go in and play as well as we can.”
The Gauchos must also try to avoid the distraction of the enthralling Hawaiian atmosphere.
“You’re in Hawaii and it’s beautiful,” Rodgers said. “There are a lot of surfers on the team and you can get a nice tan, but it’s a total distraction.”