Needing only one win in order move on to the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championship, the #5 Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team (16-14 overall, 13-9 in the MPSF), ran into a devastating speed bump last night in Malibu against #3 Long Beach, putting a bitter end to its 2005 season in the semifinal round.
Second-seeded Long Beach (22-9 overall, 14-8 MPSF) profited from the numerous hitting and service errors committed by the third-seeded Gauchos, and cruised to a 3-0 sweep in their climb to the championship, 30-20, 30-24, 30-25.
“It all came down to serving and hitting errors,” senior Aaron Mansfield said. “We’re pretty disappointed that we didn’t show up, but you’ve got to give credit to Long Beach. They scouted us well and weren’t surprised with anything we did.”
The Gauchos fired up quickly in game one, taking an early lead before a series of Santa Barbara service errors allowed Long Beach to pull ahead and later open up an eight-point lead.
“Our hitting and serving errors were huge; we basically shot ourselves in the foot and made them look good,” junior setter Bryan Berman said.
Hitting a scanty .185 percentage in game one, Santa Barbara was outdone by the 49ers, who averaged a .478 in the game, as the momentum shift clearly put a hex on the Gaucho morale for the rest of the evening.
“When we started to miss serves early on it allowed them to have their way with us, and definitely hurt us,” Mansfield said. “We knew that the only thing stopping us was ourselves. The team never lost confidence [on the whole] though, and we knew something had to change if we were going to win, but it never did.”
Game two proved just as painful for Santa Barbara, which battled from behind throughout the game, eventually trailing by six for its second loss in a row.
49er setter Tyler Hildebrand showed again why he’s best on the block, spreading the ball between his outside hitters while keeping the Gauchos off-balance all night long.
“We also had a tough time blocking-wise,” Mansfield said. “They’ve got the best setter in the country and he did a great job of reading us.”
The loss marks the second time since 2002 that Santa Barbara made it to the semifinal round — with both first round victories coming off of higher-seeded teams.
“We upset the defending national champions in the first round and we all had our eyes on winning the national championship,” Berman said. “We’re happy that we made it past the first round, but it’s definitely not as satisfying as going all the way. We’re all really bummed about it.”
The game was the last for seniors Michael Kennedy, Adam Ulfers, Mike Nelson, Aaron Mansfield and Nate Wack. In the losing effort, Mansfield recorded his 1,000th dig, a mark that will stand as the standard for UCSB in that particular category.
“It’s a disappointing way to end a season,” Mansfield said. “We had high hopes coming in, and it’s obviously disappointing to know we didn’t play like we knew we could. It’s been an unbelievable experience. I wish the team the best of luck in the future, and that future programs can build on what we’ve accomplished.”