Revenge was sweet for the Gauchos on Friday night as the UCSB men’s volleyball team defeated Cal State Northridge 3-2. The Matadors took Santa Barbara out of the winner’s bracket in the UCSB/Elephant Bar Collegiate Invitational on Jan. 6.
After losing the first two games of Friday’s contest, the Matadors won games three and four, but the Gauchos pulled through in game five for a win in their second five-game match in the past two weeks.
“Those guys have the heart of a pit bull,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “We knew they would come back, and they did.”
The Matadors began game one with a bang until sophomore opposite Evan Patak put a rally to rest. Sophomore setter Dane Jensen followed up with a kill off an over-passed Northridge service-receive, tying the game at 3-3. From there, the Gauchos took over, never letting the Matadors come close to threatening their lead. Patak ended game one with one of his career-high 32 kills of the night. Freshman outside hitter Jake Wiens added 20 kills for UCSB.
“They’re good players and will just get better and better,” Preston said of Patak and Wiens.
Santa Barbara trailed Northridge in game two until two consecutive service aces from Patak closed the gap to 12-14 and forced the Matadors to take a timeout. Patak responded with another ace coming out of the timeout, one of his match-high eight aces. Senior middle blocker Justin Adams recorded one of his three blocks to tie the game at 15-15. Jensen and Wiens went on runs of two and four consecutive serves, respectively, to bring the Gauchos to a commanding lead. Wiens’ first collegiate stuff block ended game two 30-22.
“Wiens got his first collegiate stuff tonight,” Preston said. “I told him he’d get one and he got two.”
The Matadors came back in game three, 32-34. Despite the loss, Santa Barbara showed major signs of improvement as a team, especially from junior libero Aaron Mansfield.
“[Mansfield] is loosening up a lot on defense,” Preston said. “He’s staying looser and flowing right and left a lot better.”
Mansfield had 26 digs on the night.
Another visible improvement in the Gauchos’ play is in serving. Since its Mountain Pacific Sports Federation opener against Hawaii, UCSB is making half the service errors and three times as many aces as it did Jan. 15.
“Our serving is so much better,” Preston said. “We talked about it and they’re taking it to heart.”
With tough serving, the Gauchos came back from a 30-27 loss in game four to capture game five with a 15-13 win.
“We hung together and got the points we needed,” Preston said,
Santa Barbara opened the fifth game with a 6-3 run following a kill by Adams. A series of hitting errors and a questionable call closed the gap to 7-6. The teams switched sides at 8-6 following a kill from Wiens. Wiens’ second stuff block of the night forced a Northridge timeout at 10-6. Junior outside hitter Nate Wack ended a broken play off of a pass by junior middle blocker Michael Kennedy to bring the score to 12-10. After a blocked attack, Patak ended the game 15-13 with a kill.
“That’s what volleyball is all about – winning those tight ones and the good ones,” Preston said.