Tigers may be an endangered species, but that didn’t stop the #5 UCSB men’s volleyball team from poaching them last night.

Santa Barbara (10-7 overall, 10-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) rose to the top over visiting #10 Pacific (11-10 overall, 5-8 in the MPSF) 3-1 Thursday night in Rob Gym, as early offensive success helped catapult the Gauchos to a 30-14, 28-30, 30-15, 32-30 victory.

“It was great to get off to a good start,” freshman middle blocker Theo Brunner said. “If we’re on like that, then no one can stop us.”

Sophomore opposite Evan Patak continued to demonstrate his MVP talent, pounding a .404 percentage thanks to a match-high 29 kills. It was junior outside hitter Bryan Berman and Brunner, however, who boosted the Gaucho’s offensive attack with 14 and 13 kills, respectively.

“I thought Berman had an outstanding match and really played well,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “[Brunner] played well, too, and I thought we defended [Pacific] nicely, but they just fought us all night.”

Brunner, who maintained a flawless serve record on the evening, proved to be a rallying point for the Gauchos, adding another option in the already deep Santa Barbara attack.

“I’ve been getting up early and I’ve got a lot of confidence in seeing the block,” Brunner said. “I love my libero, and it definitely makes it easier when [Patak, senior middle blocker Michael Kennedy and sophomore outside hitter Jake Wiens] help take the pressure off me.”

Santa Barbara took control of the first game, winning by a dominating 16 points in its 30-14 clobbering of the Tigers. Holding Pacific to –.118 hitting percentage in the first game, the Gauchos managed to exploit the rusty Tiger defense with streaks of kills by Patak and Brunner.

“We played great in that first game,” Preston said. “It seemed like that side of the net was hot all night, but I thought that overall we all had a good match.”

In sharp contrast to their match opener, the Tiger offense purred in game two as they led through most of the game. Hitting .389 to Santa Barbara’s .364, Pacific’s slim victory seemed huge after its more than slippery start. Game three reawakened Tiger problems, as the Gauchos kept Pacific out of rhythm both offensively and defensively, and a close game four finally put the match in the bag for Santa Barbara.

“We got a little cocky after the first [game] and didn’t come out too strong [in the second],” Brunner said. “We had a couple lapses in the match, but I felt we played well offensively, especially in the first and third games.”