Inconsistent play plagued the #7 UCSB men’s volleyball team over break, leading to a 2-5 record and dropping the Gauchos to 12-11 overall and 7-9 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play.
Santa Barbara defeated #15 University of Southern California 3-2 Saturday in Los Angeles. The Gauchos dropped the first two games 30-16 and 30-28, but picked up their play to close the match 30-22, 30-25, 15-13.
“Everyone wanted to play well but it just wasn’t happening,” junior middle blocker Michael Kennedy said.
Starting out on the wrong foot, UCSB committed one of 13 total service errors, giving the Trojans a 1-0 lead that the Gauchos would not be able to overcome in the first game. UCSB had difficulty putting down the ball in game one, hitting just .074 to USC’s .524.
Sophomore setter Dane Jensen replaced freshman setter Bryan Berman midway into game two, changing the pace for UCSB.
“I think we’re just trying to find our groove,” Kennedy said. “We’re trying to look for a comfortable setter.”
The Trojans continued their high level of play in game two, dragging the Gauchos along for a close game that was decided on a kill by junior middle blocker Chris McKniff on USC’s fourth game point. Although UCSB out-hit the Trojans (6-17, 4-12 MPSF) .371 to .270, Santa Barbara committed too many service and hitting errors.
Freshman outside hitter Evan Patak picked it up in game three to lead the Gaucho offense with five of his 25 total kills, adding to UCSB’s .315 hitting percentage. The teams remained neck-and-neck until Santa Barbara pulled ahead 11-10 on a hitting error by USC junior outside hitter Pedro Leal. Numerous Trojan errors gave the Gauchos some much-needed momentum, never allowing USC to catch up. Junior outside hitter Adam Ulfers secured the 30-22 win for the Gauchos with a service ace.
“Our team started playing with more energy and there was more confidence on the court once we won that first game,” Kennedy said.
Freshman outside hitter Jake Wiens added six of his 15 total kills in game four, contributing to a more consistent level of play for Santa Barbara. Ulfers also contributed 15 kills and six digs for the Gauchos. UCSB took game four with a Wiens kill, forcing a decisive fifth game.
Game five remained tight with the scoring tying up on three occasions. Santa Barbara took over with a kill by Ulfers, pulling the Gauchos to a slight 12-11 lead that they would never again give up. Ulfers committed a service error on game point, but USC junior setter J.T. Gilmour gave UCSB the match with a hitting error.
“I’m really excited that we were able to come back from being down two,” Kennedy said. “It takes a lot of determination.”
Pepperdine Head Coach Marv Dunphy’s decision to switch libero James Ka with outside hitter Tanner Sutherland sparked the #6 Waves to a 30-27, 30-19, 30-28 sweep March 25 in Malibu.
Game one began with 13 instances of scoring ties until the Gauchos held their biggest lead at 15-11. The Waves earned three consecutive points following a Pepperdine timeout leading to an 18-17 lead. Santa Barbara pulled ahead once more at 22-19, but a Ka service ace propelled the Waves to an eventual first game victory.
Pepperdine cruised through game two, jumping to a quick 18-8 lead and never allowing the Gauchos to catch up. Sean Rooney recorded four service aces in the second game alone. Santa Barbara came out strong in the third game, taking the lead until an error tied the game at 22. Rooney sealed the win for the Waves with one of 11 kills.
Cal Baptist University recorded their 16th consecutive win against the Gauchos with a three-game sweep March 23 in Rob Gym. The Lancers defeated UCSB 30-19, 30-27, 30-24.
Santa Barbara defeated Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne 30-20, 30-27, 30-24 in Rob Gym on March 12. The Gauchos lost a five-game battle March 10 at Northridge 30-27, 34-32, 30-27, 30-22, 12-15. In Provo, Utah, UCSB dropped two matches to BYU. The Cougars swept Santa Barbara 30-26, 30-26, 30-21 March 6 and 30-26, 30-24, 30-27 the following day.
Despite the losses, the Gauchos are keeping their heads up.
“Our team is full of talent and the capability of winning playoffs,” Kennedy said. “I don’t have a doubt in my mind that we are capable of going to playoffs and winning a championship.”