The #9 UCSB men’s volleyball team completed its second sweep in a row, making its way back to a .500 record again.
Santa Barbara (6-6 overall, 4-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) dealt a 30-24, 30-26, 30-20 victory to the Banana Slugs (5-4 overall) for the third match in a row without junior opposite hitter Evan Patak.
Last week, the Gauchos were plagued by their inability to secure a win against Long Beach after leading two out of three sets. Yet Saturday, the Gauchos had no trouble getting ahead of UCSC. After an early 2-2 tie, Santa Barbara never fell behind the Slugs in the first set.
“There are a lot of things we’ve been fine-tuning and we’ve been battling all weekend,” junior opposite Aaron Richman said. “We’re a good side out team and when we played Long Beach we made a lot of errors and couldn’t take care of the ball on our side of the court.”
In the second set, after being down 7-3, the Gauchos tied it up at nine and turned it around thanks to a block from Richman and sophomore middle blocker Theo Brunner. Santa Barbara led from there thanks in part to sophomore middle blocker Michael Fisher’s four putaways in the set and seven on the night.
“I was glad that they put some pressure on us, it wasn’t totally an easy victory,” Preston said. “They were better than we expected, I thought they’d just be ok, but that volleyball team plays pretty well. … Even though they put on the pressure, this is a Division 3 team.”
In the final set of the night, Preston put in a slew of fresh faces. Freshman outside hitter Mike Runkle came in and recorded four kills and a .429 hitting percentage in the set, as Santa Barbara hit .406 in the third game.
“Everyone’s been stepping up and it’s been a big team effort,” Richman said. “Playing against a Division 3 team was kind of like a warm up for us against UCLA next week. Mike Runkle was huge tonight and it was an all-around effort.”
In Patak’s absence, Richman and Brunner led the team with 12 kills apiece. Brunner also dominated the team’s .374 hitting clip on the night with his own stellar hitting percentage of .786.
“I think we’re doing fine [without Patak],” Brunner said. “We can give him all the time he needs to get better, and I think we can beat UCLA without Patak. The hardest thing for us was to find the opposite and Aaron’s been a good replacement for us.”
However if all goes well, UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said that he expects Patak to be back for Wednesday’s match in Los Angeles.
Next UCSB takes its two wins on the road to face #5 UCLA at 7 p.m. Wednesday.