Fire in the eyes of each player on the #7 UCSB men’s volleyball team carried the Gauchos to consecutive wins over University of the Pacific and #8 Stanford Friday and Saturday night in Rob Gym.
After dropping matches to both teams on its first road trip of the season, Santa Barbara settled the score by defeating Pacific 3-0 and Stanford 3-1.
The Gauchos (9-9 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, 14-11 overall) came out Friday night ready to win as freshman outside hitter Jake Wiens recorded his first kill of the weekend with a shot straight down the right side of the court. Junior Adam Ulfers followed with another kill to propel the Gauchos to a quick 2-0 lead that would set the tone for the remainder of the match. Late in the first game, the Tigers would catch up to tie UCSB in four instances, but Wiens broke a 29-29 tie with a kill off a back row attack. Senior middle blocker Justin Adams served an unreturned game-winner as the Gauchos closed the game 31-29.
Junior middle blocker Michael Kennedy recorded a kill on a Pacific overpassed serve return to bring the Gauchos out of a 5-3 slump early in game two. Santa Barbara servers repeatedly picked on Tiger junior outside hitter Mauricio Brizuela forcing Tiger Head Coach Joe Wortmann to substitute him out for junior outside hitter Bryson Metz, prompting a service ace by sophomore opposite Evan Patak. UCSB won game two 30-24 on a kill by Kennedy.
While the Tigers (7-19, 3-16 in MPSF) managed to stay neck-and-neck with Santa Barbara in the beginning stages of the third game, Pacific began to break down on defense midway into the game, creating more difficulty for the Tiger offense. Kennedy roofed senior middle blocker Sean Rogers at 19-14 and 23-16 before recording a kill of his own at 24-18. Freshman outside hitter Kawika Burdine put a ball down on a hit from the middle to bring the Gauchos to a 29-23 game point. Brizuela recorded a kill for the Tigers, initiating three more Pacific points. Burdine finally ended the game and match 30-25 for the Gauchos with a kill down the line from the outside.
Stanford provided more of a challenge for the Gauchos. A rowdy crowd dressed in red made Rob Gym seem more like Stanford’s home court than UCSB’s. Santa Barbara could not break away from the Cardinal until 11-8 when Wiens recorded a kill from the back row after one of his three consecutive serves, causing a Stanford timeout. Junior Alejandro Parra recorded a kill on his first attempt of the night at 21-19, but the Cardinal fought back to tie the score at 22. The Gauchos broke away for good on a Parra stuff block at 25-23. Wiens ended the game 30-25 with a service ace.
The Cardinal took game two 30-28 as a number of Gaucho attackers were unable to put the ball down effectively. Patak got fired up late in the second game to eventually record a team-high 22 kills against Stanford.
“Once Evan got into a groove he was pretty good,” Head Coach Ken Preston said.
Game three started with the exact same play that had begun the second game as Patak was blocked from the outside. The Gauchos bounced back with a quick three-point run to lead 4-2. Wiens recorded one of 18 total kills at 10-5 off a perfect pass by junior libero Aaron Mansfield to sophomore setter Dane Jensen. Santa Barbara began to lose its momentum at the 25-14 mark until junior outside hitter Nate Wack recorded a rally-ending kill out of a UCSB timeout at 26-21. The Gauchos closed the deal, 30-21, on a Wack kill after two consecutive Patak service aces.
“Dane did a nice job spreading the ball around,” Preston said.
The teams saw a multitude of ties in game four until Stanford called a timeout at 25-24 after an unreturned serve by sophomore setter Bart Kowalski. Kowalski responded with a service ace, instigating another Cardinal timeout. Stanford was called for having four touches, bringing the game to a 29-27 game point until Patak ended the game 30-27 for the Gauchos.
“The way they passed and dug in the fourth game was as good as we play,” Preston said.