Robertson Gym is the first stop of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) conference season for visiting #7 Hawaii this weekend, yet the Gaucho home court advantage has been anything but advantageous in the past thirteen years against the Rainbow Warriors. Since Head Coach Mike Wilton began coaching for Hawaii in 1993, the Warriors have a 9-2 record against Santa Barbara away from Honolulu, proving they don’t need the comforts of their island home to feel comfortable on the volleyball court.
The #8 Gauchos will be depending on a new lineup this season, as departing seniors have left some sizable holes to fill, especially at the setter and libero positions. Santa Barbara has been rotating players at the setter spot in the preseason and will continue to use a setter-by-committee approach in the near future, Head Coach Ken Preston said.
“We’re going to play the best guy at the time, and if he is not doing well, then we will get a new guy in there,” Preston said. “One problem we have so far is an uncertainty of positions, but the guys are getting more experienced. We tested a new lineup in the EBar [Tournament] and it was pretty solid.”
Hawaii, however, will be starting five of six returning players from last season’s matchup against the Gauchos, as senior outside hitter Matt Bender is out with a torn ligament in his left ankle – an injury he suffered in practice Jan. 3. Bender will likely be replaced by junior outside hitter Lauri Hakala, who recorded a .266 hitting percentage and 88 kills in 43 games last season.
“Bender was awfully good and it is unfortunate he is out,” Preston said. “We played Hawaii in the fall and our game plan [this weekend] will depend on whether their setter goes to the [substitute] as much.”
Hawaii boasts one of the quickest teams on the court in the MPSF, as well as one of the best defensive players in the country in senior All-American libero Alfred Reft. Last season, Reft ranked second in the MPSF with 2.67 digs per game, totaling 272 overall, a Rainbow Warrior record.
“We’ve been focusing a lot on blocking and passing and maintaining a more consistent level of play,” UCSB junior opposite Evan Patak said. “We’ve all been handling well, as inconsistent as [the lineup] is, and we have a lot of athletic players on this team who are good at making adjustments. [Against Hawaii] we’re looking to establish solid blocks because they’re a quick team. They’re solid, but they’re nothing spectacular.”