In its last conference match of the season, the #7 UCSB men’s volleyball team annihilated unranked USC on Saturday night, thanks to commanding performances by departing Gaucho seniors.
In one of the quickest matches of the year, Santa Barbara (15-13 overall, 13-9 in the MPSF) swept the (7-23 overall, 3-19 MPSF) 30-21, 30-18, and 30-23 in only an hour and 25 minutes.
“We came in with a lot of energy and were really fired up, especially the seniors,” senior middle blocker Michael Kennedy said. “I have a lot of good memories about [Rob Gym] and I’ll never forget it. It’s honestly one of the best gyms in the nation.”
All five Gaucho seniors started the match, and they combined for 33 kills on the night, thanks in large part to senior outside hitter Nate
Wack’s match-high 13 kills and senior opposite Adam Ulfers’ nine.
While senior libero Aaron Mansfield’s six defensive digs gave the Gauchos control, it was senior middle blocker Kennedy who shut down USC’s attack with his match-high five block assists.
A net serve by Kennedy with match point at stake – destroying what seemed like the set up for a perfect ending to his collegiate career – spread laughs and smiles through the confident Gaucho bench, which eventually managed to get the win off of a Trojan net serve.
“My teammates were telling me I should jump serve, and I don’t normally jump serve,” Kennedy said. “It’s too bad I didn’t get it over [the net], but I have no regrets. I’m just happy to make it to the playoffs.”
Senior middle blocker Mike Nelson produced two huge kills early in the first game to help the Gauchos pull away and slammed down six kills of his own to go along with two service aces.
“It was nice to see the seniors play well and go out in style,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “Nelson had a fabulous game. To sit on the bench for most of the year and play like he did was great. I told [junior setter] Bart Kowalski to set the seniors and he did. He set our outside hitters more than Evan Patak, and considering we only had four hitting errors, I think we played well.”
Never hitting below a .526 percentage, the Gauchos dominated at the net, while also holding their opponents to a pathetic .145 attack.
“[USC] is a small team and they can’t really block well. It seemed like they put their fists down a while back.”
UCSB will travel to Provo, Utah, next week to play a first-round MPSF match against Brigham Young University. The Gauchos enter the playoffs as the sixth seed, and BYU comes in as the third seed after beating #4 Hawaii.