It might be raining and possibly even pouring, but no one on the Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team will be getting much snoring done this weekend as the Gauchos travel down south for two tough road matches.
The Gauchos will first attempt to shut down #4 Long Beach setter Tyler Hildebrand and look for gaps to exploit in the 49ers dominating defense.
“[Long Beach] is a really good defensive team with the best setter in the country,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “They’ve got good ball control and they’re going to dig a lot of balls. We just have to be patient and consistent.”
Hildebrand ranks second statistically among MPSF setters, lofting up 14.38 a game for Long Beach. Besides Hildebrand, the 49ers (9-4 overall, 7-3 in the MPSF) will rely on outside hitter Robert Tarr to exploit blocking troubles that have plagued the Gauchos all season.
“We’ll probably have two guys on Tarr,” Preston said. “He’s their guy and he’s a great hitter. Hopefully we’ll have four hands on him the whole night.”
Besides maintaining their blocking assignments, the Gauchos will have to minimize mistakes throughout this weekend’s matches, especially in later games, if they are to upset Long Beach at The Pyramid.
“We need to focus on blocking once again,” senior middle blocker Michael Kennedy said. “If either match goes into the fifth, then we need to eliminate errors. It’s the reason we’ve been working on fifth-game scenarios in practice.”
Preston’s change to UCSB’s warm-up regime before last week’s match against Northridge seemed to have helped Santa Barbara, and he will continue to stick with the same approach, Preston said.
“Our outside hitters are getting more reps in warm-ups and it seems to be helping,” Kennedy said. “We also need more concentration early on and lots of focus. We need to get right at it from the get go [against Long Beach], because it will be a lot more difficult to come back against them. If we stay focused though, we’ll be fine.”
Santa Barbara will hop on the asphalt again Saturday to play San Diego (0-10 overall, 0-9 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation), a team that came extremely close to upsetting Santa Barbara at home in its last matchup on Jan. 17, despite its putrid record.
Even though San Diego has yet to produce a victory in any match this year, the Gauchos know they still have to come out strong in order to avoid an upset during this critical point of the season.
“It’s going to be a hard road trip.” Preston said. “Long Beach is the premier team of the trip, but the guys on San Diego are good as well. Right now its not too early to start thinking about fighting for a top-four spot so that we can have the home court in the first round of the playoffs.”