The #5 UCSB men’s volleyball team looked less like one of the top teams in the nation, and more like a team struggling to make the playoffs when they lost 3-1 to #13 Irvine on Thursday night in Rob Gym.
With the exception of the first game, which Santa Barbara (14-11 overall, 12-7 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) won 30-24, Irvine (8-18, 6-13 MPSF) seemed to have little trouble winning three games in a row 30-28, 30-28 and 30-20, thus sweeping the Gauchos in all three matches this season. Santa Barbara did little to stop the Anteaters; a Gaucho assistant coach was even overheard comparing their level of play to that of a high school team.
“We blocked poorly, we dug poorly, we served poorly, we did just about everything radically wrong,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “There wasn’t one aspect of our game that was very good.”
One aspect of Santa Barbara’s game that is usually more than very good is Evan Patak. However, on Thursday night the sophomore opposite drove home only 17 kills with a meager .200 hitting percentage.
“He was off,” Preston said. “It was definitely an off night for him.”
Santa Barbara managed to squeak five players into double figure kills on the night, with senior middle blocker Michael Kennedy notching 12 and freshman middle blocker Theo Brunner notching 11; sophomore setter Bryan Berman and senior outside hitter Nate Wack each tallied 10. Santa Barbara only hit .306 as a team compared to Irvine’s scorching .496 percentage.
“[Berman] hit .200, Patak hit .200, Wack had a nice offensive night, our middles had a good match, but [senior opposite Adam] Ulfers hit .125,” Preston said. “It wasn’t our night.”
Santa Barbara played with intensity and passion in the first game, but let up, dropping the next three games.
“[The first game] was a kiss of death,” Preston said. “We beat them handily in the first game, then all of a sudden we relax and think we’ve got the game. They were fighting for their lives for the playoffs and we looked like a team that was satiated to just be in the playoffs.”