Tonight at USC, the #6 Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team looks to add upon its two-game winning streak on the road and to show the Trojans that just because they have a decent football team doesn’t mean they can contend with the Gauchos on the volleyball court.
Santa Barbara (8-7 overall, 8-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) ran on all cylinders in this weekend’s upset victory over #4 Long Beach and its sweep of San Diego, and looks to ride its winning momentum into Los Angeles.
“We keep improving and we’ve got a chance to for a pretty good run,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “There’s a little debt to be paid [against USC], but we’re going to treat it just like any other road game.”
USC (4-12 overall, 1-8 in the MPSF) will end its five-match road trip tonight, playing for the first time at home in two weeks and starting off a string of seven straight matches at home.
“[A win] could be hard to get,” Preston said. “It’s hard to tell how they will mentally prepare for the game. They could be tired, or they could be stoked to finally be at home.”
In sharp contrast to last season’s 1-11 road record, the Gauchos have a 4-2 away record thus far in the conference play – a possible omen for success looming at the close of the season.
“We’ve won four matches on the road, and the last two should give us momentum for the rest of the season,” Preston said. “SC has the ability to beat us, but if we play well then we can win. We’re doing good things on the floor, but we definitely don’t have all the answers.”
Climbing into fourth place in the MPSF with their current streak, and moving up from a number seven ranking in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll to sixth, the Gauchos are confident in playing any opponent that lines up opposite the net.
“The whole team is confident we can win [tonight] and take advantage of them coming off their road trip,” senior libero Aaron Mansfield said. “They’re a good team and they have the potential to beat anyone, but we don’t see any reason why we can’t walk away with a win.
After sophomore outside hitter Jake Wiens came on to start midway through the season for the Gauchos, opponent defenses have been deflected from star sophomore opposite Evan Patak, giving Santa Barbara and its setters a multifaceted offensive attack.
“[Spreading the ball around] is Kowalski’s deal,” Preston said. “We’ve got capable hitters and those guys should be getting spread to a lot. Wiens is getting more comfortable and everyone is playing well.”