Sand beside snow, oil upon salt, Gaucho against Cougar, Patak versus Perez.
This weekend will mark a battle between opposites for #8 UCSB men’s volleyball, as a pair of weekend road matches against #2 Brigham Young in Provo, Utah will feel nothing like warm Isla Vista or cozy Rob Gym.
The Gauchos (2-3 overall, 1-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) – who already find themselves up against first place and undefeated BYU (4-0 overall, 2-0 in the MPSF) – will no doubt have their hands full during this second weekend of the conference season.
“They’re an awfully good team,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “I think the best in the league.”
Not only will UCSB be dealing with the discomforts of an opponent’s court that seats 4,500 at a 4,500 ft. elevation that sends serves sailing, but it also has three starters who have been battling the flu during practice this week.
Junior opposite Evan Patak, sophomore outside hitter Michael Fisher and sophomore middle blocker Theo Brunner currently have symptoms of the flu, Preston said Wednesday.
‘They will all be playing,” Preston said. “But how we do in the matches will probably depend on how effective those guys will be.”
BYU, led by sophomore outside hitter Ivan Perez and senior middle blocker Victor Batista, boasts one of the best offenses in the country. Perez has been averaging 4.26 kills per game while Batista’s .473 hitting percentage leads the Cougars.
“We just have to dig Perez and concentrate on Batista in a couple of rotations,” Preston said. “We have to have somebody in their [faces].”
Last season, Santa Barbara split two regular season matches with the Cougars, before knocking BYU out of the MPSF tournament in five games. The Cougars will most likely be looking for revenge and a repeat of the match-high 24 kills Perez slammed down upon the Gauchos in their last meeting.
“They run a quick offense and they tend to overload one side, so we’re going to have to stop that,” Fisher said. “They’ve got a great threat in Batista and [Perez] because they get such consistent sets. We’re going to have to respect their middle, while still thinking about their outside hitters.”
In their last match against Cal State Northridge, BYU posted a school rally-scoring record with 24 blocks. Batista recorded a career-high nine blocks, but it was sophomore middle blocker Russell Holmes that led the way for BYU with a career-high 12 blocks. Perez slammed 21 kills, while Batista followed him with 18 of his own.
If the Gauchos – who gave up 125 kills and only recorded 15 blocks against Hawaii in two matches last weekend – expect to control the battle at the net, they will have to receive stand out performances from Brunner and recently converted middle blocker Fisher to take some pressure off of Patak on the outside.