Coming out of a weekend pair of sweeps against sub-par opponents, the #9 Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team will have to line up at the net opposite #3 Long Beach State tonight, in a match that will put more than the Gauchos’ brooms to the test.
After holding the #1 spot for the first three weeks of the season, Long Beach (8-1 overall, 4-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation [MPSF]) lost to now #1 Pepperdine last weekend in Malibu 3-1. The 49ers boast one of the best offenses in the nation, as they continue to hit .325 for the year, mostly in part to the distribution provided by their senior All-American setter Tyler Hildebrand.
“[Long Beach] is a good team,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “Their offense is really diversified, but we’re a young team and right now we just want to improve on our side of net. The [sweeps] last weekend gave the team some confidence, but Long Beach is a much different opponent.”
The Gauchos (4-5, 3-3 in the MPSF) will also have to win the fight at the net tonight, as their young and relatively inexperienced middles will face off against senior outside hitter Robert Tarr. Tarr posted 28 kills against Pepperdine in the 49er loss last week, and leads the team with 184 kills this season.
“We’ve got to key on their middles and Tarr,” Preston said. “We need to serve well and load up on Tarr in order to slow down Hildebrand.”
With only two days of practice since Saturday’s victory over Stanford, the Gauchos have had little time to prepare for the busy week ahead. Junior middle blocker David Kennedy has been practicing at the middle blocker position and may see time tonight in place of outside-hitter-turned-middle-blocker Michael Fisher, while senior opposite Evan Patak has been kept out of practice this week to rest.
“We’re sort of recovering from the weekend,” freshman setter Max Klineman said. “Patak has been resting all week. We played well this weekend, but I don’t think there will be any carry over from [the sweeps].”
Preston is resting Patak in order for him to be at full strength against the 49ers, as the junior opposite usually carries the team when it finds itself under pressure.
“We can’t rely on Patak the whole night,” Preston said. “If we keep going to Patak, his shoulder won’t last and teams will start to load up on him, but I’ve been pleased with how [Klineman] has been spreading the ball around.”
Klineman has filled senior setter Bart Kowalski’s shoes well so far this season and spread the ball around last weekend enough to help junior middle blocker Theo Brunner receive Gaucho Athlete of the Week honors for his 12 kill and .733 hitting percentage performance.
“Spreading [the ball] around is always my goal,” Klineman said. “It will help our offense and our team, but when we get in trouble Patak is our man. He can get the ball down better than anyone else.”