The #7 UCSB men’s volleyball team was all question marks Wednesday night in Irvine; the Gauchos couldn’t find an answer for sophomore outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky in their second straight loss to #11 Irvine.
Jablonsky led the Anteaters (4-7 overall, 2-4 MPSF) in kills; connecting on 17 out of his 22 attempts for an impressive .727 hitting percentage. The victory is the second of the season against the Gauchos (5-5, 5-2); both times, Santa Barbara failed to win a game en route to 0-3 shutouts.
“Yeah, that’s a pretty good hitting percentage. [Jablonsky] was hitting smart, hitting high off his hand and taking some power off when he needed to,” UCSB junior setter Dane Jensen said. “He just did what needed to be done to find the open spots on the floor.”
Going into the match, Santa Barbara knew that blocking Irvine’s strong outside hitters would be essential to victory, and spent its practices planning and preparing for them, but couldn’t get it together for the match.
“We had our blocking assignments, but we didn’t really follow our game plan,” Jensen said. “They had lots of open looks at the net and good lines.”
“[Blocking is] something that we need to improve,” senior middle blocker Michael Kennedy said. “We need to get better if we are going to be a competitive team.”
Kennedy and senior outside hitter Nate Wack led the Gauchos in blocks with two apiece. Santa Barbara players blocked only eight shots compared to Irvine’s 15.
Perhaps even more pestering than the Irvine hitters were there servers. Irvine punished Santa Barbara from the service line, tallying eight aces and keeping the Gaucho defenders out of rhythm.
“We didn’t handle their serves well and couldn’t get into a good rhythm.” sophomore opposite hitter Evan Patak said. “It’s not characteristic of our typical level of play.”
The Gauchos continued their trend of dropping the first game of the match, just as they have in the past four games. This time they were unable to steal a comeback as they dropped three straight games, 30-14, 30-27, and 30-26.
“We’re more than capable of winning and battling back,” Kennedy said. “But we can’t just keep handing teams games.”
Santa Barbara players were quick to acknowledge their team’s shortcomings in Wednesday’s loss.
“If we went out and took care of business, we should have been able to beat them,” Jensen said. “The ball was in our court and we just couldn’t get it done.”
Patak simplified the night.
“We played very poor,” Patak said. “And Irvine played well.”
Wednesday’s loss comes at a rough time in the season and the Gauchos will need to bounce back if they want to be competitive against top-ranked UCLA (9-1,5-1 MPSF) on Friday in Santa Barbara.