When it comes to volleyball this conference season, few Gaucho opponents have looked forward to traveling the winding yellow-brick road to Santa Barbara — not lions, not tigers and not even top-ranked Bruins.
After a disappointing road loss to Irvine on Wednesday night, the UCSB men’s volleyball team has returned home to host #1 UCLA (9-1 overall, 5-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) tonight at 7:05 in Rob Gym.
“It’s going to be a tough match,” junior setter Dane Jensen said. “This match will definitely show what we’re made of. We need to come out more fired up, stick with our game plan and forget about Wednesday night. If we do that, we should be fine.”
Starting strong in matches has been a problem all season for #7 Santa Barbara (5-5 overall, 5-2 MPSF), who must play 100 percent throughout the match if it is to topple the Bruins.
“We’ve lost the first game in eight out of 10 matches and that’s a problem,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “I had said before the last match that [playing Irvine] would be dogfight, but as we saw, only one dog showed up.”
UCLA swept Northridge on Wednesday night as the Gauchos fell to Irvine. Tonight will serve as the Bruins’ last road match before a six-game homestand.
Santa Barbara will need to find its way around UCLA senior middle blocker Paul Johnson, in addition to stopping his offensive attack. Johnson posted an attack percentage of .875 in his last game, along with two service aces.
“Anybody can beat anybody in this league,” Preston said. “UCLA just plays a real error-free game. If you make errors, then you’re going to get beat.”
Without effective passing, it will be a long night for the Gauchos, Preston said. Santa Barbara has had little time since Wednesday to prepare, but still managed to refine its passing and defensive skills.
“We definitely need to realize our blocking assignments,” Jensen said. “A lot of the time it’s communication that’s the problem.”
Santa Barbara rebounded after its first loss to BYU this season, but UCLA will serve as a menacing roadblock toward its goal.
“It’s always good to come back strong after a loss because it shows character,” Jensen said. “Whether we win or lose though, we just have to play with heart.”