After hosting this weekend’s 42nd Annual Elephant Bar Invitational, the Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team now has a trunk full of reasons to expect success this season, despite finishing the invite with a record of 1-2 and losing a pair of preseason bouts the previous week.
#2 seed Long Beach State carried a perfect record through the invitational to grab the first place spot from defending champion #1 UCLA, capitalizing on costly errors committed by the Bruins in the final four-game match.
#3 Cal State Northridge defeated #4 Santa Barbara 30-23, 30-24, 30-19 in three games in their final round match of the tournament to capture third place honors, yet the Gauchos only needed their solitary first-round win against #5 UC Irvine – a milestone they were unable to capture in last year’s winless EBar – to appropriately finish fourth out of the eight-team Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. UC Irvine has bullied Santa Barbara as of late, winning six out of the seven games played in the 2005 season and sweeping them in last year’s EBar tournament. But this year the Gauchos took back their lunch money in the first round of play, narrowly beating the Anteaters in five games.
“We started out strong against Irvine, which was nice considering we had lost four straight against them going into the match,” junior outside hitter Bryan Berman said.
With the 2005 NCAA kills leader junior opposite Evan Patak at the Gaucho helm however, Santa Barbara looks to pose quite the challenge for Irvine and the rest of the MPSF and improve upon its 14-16 conference record from last season.
“[Patak] has always been a workhorse for us. His serving has always been good, but he has been working on it in the offseason and is now a lot more dominant,” Berman said.
Patak has now recorded a team-high 57 kills in five games this year, while lofting 10 service aces, more than the entire Gaucho squad combined. However, Patak’s impressive statistics were not enough to catapult the Gauchos over UCLA in the second round of the invitational.
“We had just finished a five-game match against Irvine so we were already tired coming into the UCLA match,” freshman setter Max Klineman said. “We didn’t play as well as we could and we just weren’t making the right adjustments.”
The Bruins handed the Gauchos a quick loss in three straight games 30-23, 30-27, 30-28, on their way to the championship match.
“[UCLA] is a decent squad, but they’re definitely beatable, we just had no sense of urgency throughout the match and our rhythm was off, too.” Berman said. “We need to take what we did wrong and learn from it, mainly practice our blocking and defense.”
Blocking and defense has been the Achilles’ heel for the Gauchos over the past few seasons, and with a large hole to fill at the libero position, due to the graduating Aaron Mansfield, Head Coach Ken Preston might have to use his imagination when compensating for the all-time Gaucho digs leader’s absence.