Paralleled with Santa Barbara’s recent torrential rainstorm, the #7 Gaucho men’s volleyball team thundered through Southern California like a tropical hurricane this weekend, upsetting #4 Long Beach and hammering unranked San Diego.
An improved blocking scheme allowed Santa Barbara (8-7 overall, 8-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) to shut down both opponents’ offenses this weekend.
Santa Barbara’s four-game upset over Long Beach (9-5 overall, 7-4 in MPSF) Friday night started slowly for the Gauchos as always, losing the first game by a convincing 30-22. However, Santa Barbara responded with a win in game two, the first of three straight wins, which gave the match to the Gauchos.
“We played with a lot more juice [after the first game],” sophomore setter Bryan Berman said. “We knew we had to cut down on the errors, and we just kept our heads up.”
Game three proved to be the turning point for Santa Barbara, who narrowly escaped a second loss after trailing 27-23. With the help of numerous 49er service errors late in the game, the Gauchos capitalized with a comeback, squeaking by Long Beach 34-32.
“We spent all of last week working on game five situations, and I think the work helped,” sophomore opposite Evan Patak said. “We took everything play by play and really never gave up.”
Sophomore outside hitter Jake Wiens and freshman middle blocker Theo Brunner led the Gauchos with six blocks a piece, followed by Patak and senior middle blocker Michael Kennedy, each with five.
Patak again led Santa Barbara in kills, amassing 23 in the four games, but 49er outside hitter Robert Tarr surpassed the Gauchos’ weapon of choice, amassing 26 kills on the night.
San Diego (0-12 overall, 0-11 in MPSF), who has struggled all season, was no match for Santa Barbara on Saturday night, as the Gauchos easily swept the Tritons in three, 30-27, 30-19, 30-26.
“Everything fell together [against San Diego] and we just took care of business,” Patak said. “We passed well, Bart [Kowalski] set a balanced attack, and we also blocked well. The outcome was the way it should have been. If we’re playing our game against [San Diego, then there is no reason not to sweep them.”
Kennedy shut down San Diego’s attack with a season-high eight blocks, and despite Patak’s absence in game three, the Gauchos managed a .379 attack percentage to the Tritons’ .196. Twelve Gaucho kills to San Diego’s four summed up the Triton struggles, as Santa Barbara’s defense was solid all evening.
“It was great that we out-blocked both teams this weekend,” Berman said. “Kennedy had a huge weekend. It was like a block party and he just shut down the other teams.”