Luring #2 Pepperdine from its quaint Malibu beach houses into the catacombs of Rob Gym will be just the opportunity for the #7 UCSB men’s volleyball team to prove its postseason capability, as both teams look to spark in a late-season bonfire tonight at 7.
Santa Barbara (14-12 overall, 12-8 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) needs to fend off Pepperdine’s (19-2 overall, 18-2 in the MPSF) potent offense to seek sweet justice for the 3-2 loss the Gauchos were handed in their last match against the Waves.
“We just need to play better, and I think the guys just need to focus on playing good volleyball,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “In fact, it’s crucial. If we win, we can have a home game in the first round [of the MPSF postseason tournament].”
Preston insists that thoughts of the postseason are not obscuring the minds of his players, yet with only two matches left in the regular season, looking forward for inspiration can be a crucial key to success.
“I think they know what’s at stake. What we do significantly affects how we play in the postseason; we just need to start playing better,” Preston said. “We have one thought in mind, and that’s winning a national championship. In order to win, though, we have to remain focused.”
Pepperdine, which currently holds a one-game margin over UCLA for first place in the MPSF, places its cards in senior Sean Rooney, who slammed the Gauchos for 26 kills at their last meeting. Rooney leads the MPSF in aces with 76 on the season and lies a close second in kills and points scored behind the Gauchos’ own weapon of mass destruction, sophomore opposite Evan Patak.
“Rooney is a big offensive threat, and their middles are good, too,” Patak said. “We need to key on their top players and make them hit shots they don’t want to hit.”
The Gauchos, who have lost three of their last four matches, are hoping they can escape the troubles that have been pestering them since their trip to Hawaii.
“We’ve had a mental breakdown for the last couple [matches], so we just need to take care of our side of the net,” Patak said. “The [losses] have put the team down, but we just want to have fun and play ball the way we know we can play. We know we can beat [Pepperdine], and we’re still fighting for home court in the playoffs, so it’s a good opportunity to send a message.”