In their conference season opener this weekend, the #8 UC Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team swept visiting #7 Hawaii in three games Friday night before the Rainbow Warriors reclaimed their pot of gold Saturday to split the series with a win in four.
The Gauchos (2-3 overall, 1-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) edged Hawaii (1-1 overall, 1-1 MPSF) in their three game romp on Friday 30-27, 30-28, 30-25, putting up a .359 hitting percentage to Hawaii’s .344, but were bested by the Warriors’ superior middle blockers in Saturday’s match, losing 36-34, 28-30, 30-28, 30-21.
“We weren’t playing with the energy we normally do,” sophomore middle blocker Theo Brunner said. “We passed pretty well though, but we made too many errors and couldn’t get good blocks when we needed them.”
Santa Barbara – who has moved sophomore outside hitter Michael Fisher to middle blocker thus far in the season – was dominated by Hawaii blocking the entire weekend. The Gauchos managed to avoid the majority of the Hawaii block in their first match, but match two was controlled by the Warriors’ middle blockers sophomore Kyle Klinger and junior Dio Dante. The duo at the net helped Hawaii deny 13.5 Gaucho shots. Santa Barbara’s seven team blocks could not keep the Rainbow Warriors from controlling the battle at the net and was a key factor in the loss.
“It’s tough to stop the middle in this league,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “If someone else can step up [at middle blocker] then I’ll put Fisher back at outside hitter.” Hawaii’s junior outside hitter Lauri Hakala filled injured Matt Bender’s spot splendidly, knocking down 38 kills on the weekend and topping the Warriors’ kills category both nights.
“We had a lot of trouble with Hakala. He took us to school,” Brunner said.
Hitting and service errors also plagued the Gauchos on Saturday. The Warriors scored 47 points off of Santa Barbara miscues.
“We couldn’t stop Hakala and we gave them too many points off errors,” Preston said. “[Hawaii] has always been a quick team and they just passed really well.”
Junior opposite Evan Patak racked up match-high kills totals both nights, slamming down 43 on the weekend, but was slow early in Saturday’s match. Hawaii’s defense managed to contain Patak at times, forcing freshman setter Max Klineman to spread the ball around on the Gaucho offense.
Junior outside hitter Bryan Berman – Santa Barbara’s number one utility player – knocked down 16 kills and junior outside hitter Aaron Richman squeaked in 14 of his own thanks to the Patak stacked Hawaii defense.
Patak, who has maintained almost an ace per game average this season, was shut out Friday night, yet came back strong in Saturday’s contest. Patak’s match-high seven service errors – two of which put an end to games three and four – overshadowed the All-American’s performance that included a match-high seven aces Saturday.