After #9 Northridge put a bitter end to Santa Barbara’s six-match winning streak on March 9, the #5 Gaucho men’s volleyball team coasted through non-conference play in Long Beach before being stumped by NAIA #1 Cal Baptist last Friday in Rob Gym.
The Gauchos (13-9 overall, 11-5 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) never lost a game in their romp through Long Beach’s Asics Active Ankle Invite, sweeping Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne and Rutgers-Newark (both 8-9 overall), thanks in part to strong serves and a dominating defense.
“Our play in Long Beach really puts into perspective how strong our league is. We’re a top-two MPSF team that dominated in both our matches,” senior libero Aaron Mansfield said. “We had no doubt coming in that we wouldn’t give up a game.”
Giving sophomore Evan Patak a break from chasing the all-time Gaucho service ace record, senior opposite/middle blocker Adam Ulfers led Santa Barbara with four of its 11 total service aces against Indiana-Purdue, and with 13 kills, was second only to senior middle blocker Michael Kennedy, who posted 14.
Junior setter Bart Kowalski continued to spread the ball effectively for the Gauchos, totaling 85 assists in the six games played and helping Santa Barbara reach a .417 attack percentage at the invite.
“We had good matches from the serving line,” Mansfield said. “We played well and it was good enough to win in three games both times. [Kowalski] did a good job spreading and distributing, and our hitters just hit their shots.”
Kennedy led the Gaucho attack again against Rutgers with 16 kills, but his match-high six block assists stuffed the Scarlet Raider offense, contributing to Santa Barbara’s 14 total team blocks.
“Our good defense stemmed from tough serving,” Mansfield said. “But our outside blocking and middles did a great job of shutting them down, too. [Kowalski] is improving every week and obviously Patak is great for us. Having Ulfers in gives us more offense and we are a better team with him on the court.”
After traveling back to Santa Barbara, however, the Gauchos found their opponents a bit more competitive than those faced in Long Beach, as their last non-conference match of the season proved to be a tough outing.
Cal Baptist (20-6 overall), the #1 team in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, shut down the offense of the Gauchos, who posted a meager .220 attack percentage to CBU’s .438 in their 30-26, 30-24, 22-30, 30-21 victory at Rob Gym.
The Lancers took control early on in the match and only faltered in the third game, as Santa Barbara was held in check by a strong defense that racked up 11 team blocks to the Gaucho’s 5.5.
“[Cal Baptist] changed up what they were doing really well and were playing a real scrappy defense,” sophomore setter Bryan Berman said. “They had a lot of older guys who were all really good athletes, but we know we have things to improve upon and we’ll take what we need and move on.”
Patak’s single ace against the Lancers ties him with Donny Harris for the Gauchos’ all-time record after he broke the single-season service ace record against IPFW by nailing four straight.