The key to beating #2 Pepperdine was hidden deep within the sand last night, and even a metal detector wouldn’t have helped the #7 UCSB men’s volleyball team in its 3-1 loss in Rob Gym.

Santa Barbara (14-13 overall, 12-9 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) failed to capture a win in its third straight match Wednesday night, falling to first-place Pepperdine (20-2 overall, 19-2 in the MPSF) in four games 30-26, 30-27, 27-30, 30-27.

Starting sluggishly in game one with a .061 hitting percentage, the Gauchos somehow managed to keep the game close, despite poor passing against a dominant Pepperdine blocking scheme.

“We have to gather ourselves and start passing better early on,” freshman middle blocker Theo Brunner said. “We had our chances but we just couldn’t put easy balls away. They were trapping pretty well and we just had a lack of communication.”

Pepperdine came out strong in games one and two, putting Santa Barbara away 2-0 with the efforts of senior outside hitter Sean Rooney and towering 6’8″ freshman setter Jonathan Winder.

“[Winder] is good and he’s just going to keep getting better and better,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “[Pepperdine] is a tall team and they’ll be even taller with the new recruits they have coming in. They’ll definitely be tough to stop in the future.”

Rooney posted a team-high 24 kills with a .413 percentage thanks in part to 64 Winder assists. However, Rooney and the Waves’ offense was outplayed in game three, as the Gauchos rallied late to pull out a 30-27 victory despite suffering a lower hitting percentage than their Malibu opposition.

“We started getting in Rooney’s head,” Brunner said. “It must have affected him since he started hitting balls [out of bounds].”

Sophomore opposite Evan Patak slammed down a match-high 27 kills to put Rooney in his place and add to his hold over first place in kills and points in the MPSF.

“[Patak] made some hitting errors early on, but after he started going cross-court he was terrific,” Preston said. “We need more variety in our offense and a better spread. We hit .061 in the first game, and that’s terrible. We can’t keep setting [everything to Patak].”