Pack your bags and bring some friends. It’s time for a road trip.
With a wretched away record of 1-10 last season, the #7 Gaucho men’s volleyball team hopes this weekend’s road trip will play out like a stairway to heaven instead of the highway to hell that has haunted them in the past.
Santa Barbara (3-4 overall, 2-2 in the Mount Pacific Sports Federation) will play two conference rivals this weekend, rolling into Stockton on Friday night to play #10 Pacific (6-3 overall, 2-2 MPSF), then to Palo Alto, Calif. on Saturday, matching up against #9 Stanford (3-4 overall, 2-2 MPSF). The Gauchos hope to maintain their third place standing in the MPSF, as Pacific and Stanford are known for dominating with a home court advantage.
“This weekend is important as far as pulling off some wins,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “If we can split then it would be great, but if we can win both games it would be a lot more fun.”
Even though Pacific has not defeated a higher ranked opponent this season, it looks to improve its all-time record against the Gauchos, currently standing at 9-8.
“Pacific is a tough place to play, so we’re going to take it as a challenge,” senior outside hitter Nate Wack said. “Since this is our first road match and since we weren’t very good on the road last year, we’re looking to step it up this time around.”
Coming off of a 3-0 win over San Diego, Stanford will return home to host the incoming Gauchos. Stanford boasts a third-team All-American selection in senior setter Kevin Hansen, who has piled up 4,128 assists, fourth all-time for the Cardinal.
Santa Barbara will be looking for consistency ahead and, if successful, should be able to win both matches this weekend, Wack said.
This consistency will likely be driven by sophomore opposite Evan Patak, who proved to be a huge factor in last Friday’s upset win over #2 BYU. Patak was named MPSF Player of the Week, thanks in part to his season-high 32-kills to hit .412. His performance will be crucial if Santa Barbara plans on winning Friday and Saturday.
“Our middle blockers are our key to a win,” Preston said. “If [Patak] is on then we’ll be good.”
Junior Bart Kowalski will start at setter for Friday night’s match because of his performance in practice, overtaking junior setter Dane Jensen.
“I’m not going to stay with one guy until they lose,” Preston said. “Whoever wins the [starting job] in practice will get the chance.”