Even a railroad spike would have cringed Friday night, as the effective offense of the #7 Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team pounded visiting Northridge.
The Gauchos (6-7 overall, 6-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) decisively swept Northridge (6-7 overall, 6-4 MPSF) in three games 30-27, 30-25 and 30-26, putting an end to Santa Barbara’s three-match losing streak despite their struggles defensively.
“[Northridge] is one of the elite teams in the league,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “We’re both battling for the playoffs, and these are some key games to win while we’re here at home.”
Winning the first game of matches has been rare for Santa Barbara this year, but apparently changes in pre-game warm-ups benefited the Gauchos on Friday night, as they developed an offensive rhythm early on.
“We were more concerned with being efficient in the first game,” sophomore setter Bryan Berman said. “We tried to avoid errors, and we came out a lot more focused.”
Taking control early in the first game, Santa Barbara held an 11-7 lead at one point, before the Matadors capitalized on Gaucho errors, tying the game at 15-15. With the help of a balanced attack from sophomore opposite Evan Patak and sophomore outside hitter Jake Wiens, Santa Barbara traded points with Northridge until 27-27, when Patak kills helped spark a 3-0 run. In a fitting conclusion, a Patak service ace on game point put the Gauchos on top 1-0.
“I thought we did a nice job distributing the ball,” Preston said. “It’s an unusual feeling [to win the first game] and it was nice to be up.”
Santa Barbara was in the driver’s seat for game two, never trailing after pulling away from a 5-5 tie early on. The Gauchos, who improved defensively in game two, were ahead 19-12 at one point and later finished off Northridge 30-25.
“Defense is something that just takes longer to dial into,” Berman said. “I’m not sure if that was the reason for what happened [in game two], but we did get better as the game went on.”
Game three started off in the hands of the Matadors, who quickly took a 3-0 lead. Led by the All-American Patak, the Gauchos ever-so-slowly nibbled at the Northridge lead and, despite some passing trouble, eventually tied the game at 23-23. Later, a string of Berman serves opened up a four-point lead before Patak blasted a kill to close out the game and match.
“[Northridge] went very conservative in the third [game] and we got into some pass trouble,” Preston said. “We tried to overload the right side tonight, while concentrating on four rotations. We’ll look to work on the other two, as well as our transition game [next week].”