The #7 UCSB men’s volleyball team will look to gain some revenge against #11 Irvine when Santa Barbara travels to Irvine tonight.
The last time the Gauchos (5-4,5-1 MPSF) faced the Anteaters (3-7, 1-4 MPSF) was in the second round of the EBar Invitational in Santa Barbara on Jan. 7, with Irvine sweeping Santa Barbara out 3-0.
“They weren’t playing as well then as they are now, and we weren’t either,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “I expect a real dogfight.”
Indeed, the Gauchos have improved their level of play, winning five of the last six matches after dropping the first three. Irvine has dropped six of their last eight, but still has weapons that will need to be checked if Santa Barbara wants to steal their third road win in a row.
Two of those weapons are outside hitters freshman Jon Stellar and sophomore Jason Jablonsky, who combined for 35 of the Anteaters’ 55 total kills the last time the teams met.
“They have some really good outside hitters,” Preston said. “It will be the whole team’s job to step up and make the blocks.”
“We need to become a better blocking team,” senior middle blocker Michael Kennedy said. “It’s what we’ve been working on in practice lately.”
Kennedy, who leads the team with 26 total blocks and eight solo blocks, welcomes the challenge of facing Irvine’s strong outside hitters.
“We’ve practiced hard and know what they can do,” Kennedy said. “We’re definitely ready for the challenge.”
The match in Irvine will be Santa Barbara’s third consecutive road match after defeating #10 Pacific (7-4, 3-3 MPSF) and #9 Stanford in their home arenas.
“We’re extremely confident right now,” Kennedy said. “Winning on the road gave us a big boost in confidence.”
Part of that big boost in confidence had to come from the scorching hot performance of sophomore All-American outside hitter Evan Patak. Patak tallied 48 total kills in a five game victory over Stanford (3-6, 2-4 MPSF) over the weekend, setting an AVCA Division I-II modern day record and earning AVCA Division I-II Player Of The Week Accolades.
“We need [Patak] to play well for us to be competitive,” Preston said. “But we can’t rely on him like that every time. We need to play as a team and maintain focus on the road.”
“[Patak] was unstoppable against Stanford,” Kennedy said, “so we had to keep getting it to him. But we would like to get everyone set and really play as a team.”
Santa Barbara’s team play will be put to the test tonight as the Gauchos look to extend their two-match road winning streak.