Just like a group of stoked surfers awaiting some killer swell, the Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team will look to ride the Waves tonight before it crashes into the Malibu shore.
Hoping to avoid another loss on the road, the Gauchos will travel to Malibu to take on #2 Pepperdine (6-1 overall, 6-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) at 7 p.m.
Santa Barbara (5-6 overall, 5-3 in the MPSF) looks to snap the Waves’ four-match winning streak and prove its early season road wins were not flukes.
“We’re definitely going into [Malibu] in good shape,” senior outside hitter Nate Wack said. “We aren’t afraid of them, winning streak or not. Last year our problem was inexperience. This year we are a lot more well-rounded.”
Pepperdine boasts a strong blocking scheme, which includes one of the best outside hitters in the conference with senior Sean Rooney. Rooney, who was named the Sports Import/American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division I National Player of the Week on Jan. 18, is currently maintaining a double-digit kill streak of 32 matches.
“We’re going to try to stay away from their block and try to neutralize Rooney, who is probably the best player in the league,” Head Coach Ken Preston said.
In order to capsize Rooney and the rest of the Waves, the Gauchos must come out strong in their first game and give sophomore opposite Evan Patak, who received his second AVCA Player of the Week award Feb. 2, some support.
“We need to become more consistent,” Wack said. “We’ve been hot and cold and our next step is to just come out of the gates firing.” “[Patak] had to dig himself out of a hole last week,” Preston said. “If he’s on, then we’ll set him more. It really depends on who [Patak] is going against. [Pepperdine] will probably put Rooney on him most of the game.”
A strong performance by sophomore outside hitter Jake Wiens in last Friday’s loss to UCLA has garnered him a spot in the starting lineup tonight and should help deflect some of the defense away from Patak.
“Wiens will take the pressure off of [Patak] and I’d like to see our middle blockers step up as well,” Preston said. “Every match is so much different than the last. It all depends on how we come out of the gates.”