The #5 UCSB men’s volleyball team clinched a spot in this year’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Postseason Tournament after splitting two matches with #6 Hawaii over the weekend, giving its nail-biting fans reason to wear gloves this postseason.
A four-game loss to the Warriors (16-7 overall, 12-6 in the MPSF) on Friday night in Honolulu knocked the Gauchos (14-10 overall, 12-6 MPSF) down to fourth place in the MPSF standings, courtesy of Hawaii’s strong defense and successful offensive attack. However, the Gauchos bounced back Saturday to narrowly take the second match in five games.
“A huge factor on Friday was that we made too many service errors,” sophomore opposite Evan Patak said. “We just gave up too many free points.”
Even with a match-high 25 kills from Patak, Santa Barbara failed to produce the offense that has been typical of it in the past. Hawaii’s 14.5 team blocks helped freeze the Gaucho attack to .248 on the night, while the Warriors’ lead in every category more than helped to secure the win.
“We fixed our problems after Friday’s game and we just kept fighting,” Patak said. “We definitely wanted to come away with two wins, but I’ll take a split at Hawaii any day.”
With revenge from the night before and thoughts of a playoff berth looming ahead, over 4,000 fans packed Hawaii’s Stan Sheriff Center on Saturday night to watch the five-game battle.
“We had a team meeting and a film session Saturday afternoon and we just talked about finishing the season strong,” senior libero Aaron Mansfield said. “We prepared better, blocked better and did a nice job of containing their hitters [on Saturday night].”
Santa Barbara came out strong from the gates, hitting a .425 percentage to help it capture game one 30-25, but a comeback surge in game two, led by Hawaii’s Pedro Azenha, tied the match at two apiece.
Games three and four met the same fate, as the Gauchos took the former, thanks to improved defensive play, while the Warriors rallied in the fourth to escape the four-game loss.
Down five points to none at the start of the fifth and final game, the Gauchos managed to climb back. After warding off three Warrior match points, three straight kills by Patak stole the match from Hawaii 3-2. Patak’s 31 kills led both squads on the night, supporting the Gauchos on their path to postseason pursuits and reclaiming their third place stance in the MPSF.
“Everybody was confident going into game five that we would win,” Mansfield said. “It was the best win I’ve ever had in my life and it’s really a huge boost to come back and win after being down 0-5 to start that fifth game.”