Having clinched a spot in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament, the UCSB men’s volleyball team heads to Irvine more relaxed and focused on handing the Anteaters their third loss to the Gauchos this season.
“We can’t be too relaxed going in, but it definitely takes the pressure off,” Head Coach Kenny Preston said.
Santa Barbara has struggled on the road this season, posting a 1-9 record away from Rob Gym. While the Anteaters (12-17, 6-14 in MPSF) might go into tonight’s 7 o’clock game at Crawford Court with a slight home-court advantage, Irvine is only 5-6 at home. However, the stakes are high for the Anteaters, who are currently tied with Stanford to clinch the last remaining MPSF Tournament spot.
“The road’s tough to win on but other teams seem to do it,” Preston said. “We’re not a veteran team. This is the first time a lot of our players have played in other facilities.”
The #9Anteaters (USA Today/AVCA Men’s Volleyball Poll) are coming off a 3-2 upset over #6 Hawaii. It was the first Irvine win against the Warriors away from the mainland. The #8 Gauchos also split a pair of matches with Hawaii this season in Rob Gym.
Irvine senior outside hitter Jimmy Pelzel tops the record books in a number of categories. He holds the record for career aces with 94, as well as in career kills and attempts, and is second in career digs. Nationally, Pelzel ranks fifth in kills and seventh in points per game with 4.79 and 5.38, respectively. At the net, senior 6’7″ middle blocker Kyle Weichert puts up a strong block for the Anteaters.
“Pelzel is one of the best in the league,” Preston said. “I expect him to be playing great. It’s on his shoulders to get his team into the playoffs.”
Leading the Gaucho attack is sophomore opposite Evan Patak, who has 369 kills to hit .313 on the season. Following Patak are freshman outside hitter Jake Wiens with 326 kills and junior middle blocker Michael Kennedy with 216. Kennedy sets up a solid block in the front row having already posted 128 total blocks this season. Junior libero Aaron Mansfield has kept 246 balls in play, averaging 2.51 digs per game. Sophomore setter Dane Jensen has continually led the Gaucho offense, tallying 919 assists. As a team, UCSB has hit .301 this season, holding its opponents to a .283 clip.
Santa Barbara joins #1 seed BYU, #2 Long Beach State, #3 UCLA, #4 Northridge, #5 Hawaii and #6 Pepperdine, who have all clinched MPSF Tournament berths.