By Monique Moyal
Staff Writer

Adding to yesterday’s rainstorm, the #8 UCSB men’s volleyball fans brought their signature thunder back into the Thunderdome last night, as Santa Barbara defeated #10 USC in four sets.

The Gauchos (13-12 overall, 9-10 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) have struggled to find a groove without leading scorer junior opposite Evan Patak in the lineup. Last night, though, they were able to spread the ball around the court and find their dominating offensive rhythm, winning 30-23, 25-30, 33-31 and 30-26.

“We’re more balanced scoring without Evan in the lineup,” sophomore middle blocker Theo Brunner said. “Everyone stepped up for us tonight and we’re still a good team without Evan. Other teams don’t recognize that and we just need to show them like we did tonight.”

The Trojans (11-16, 7-13 MPSF) came out ready to return the favor, as UCSB defeated them at home earlier in the season. USC was almost able to take the first set from Santa Barbara, jumping to an early 8-4 lead and holding onto it until the score was tied at 20. Down by two, at 18-20, sophomore outside hitter Phil Mathews entered the game and went on a seven-point serving run for Santa Barbara, leaving with the score in favor of the Gauchos, 26-21.

“Phil basically won that first game for us,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “Without Evan, we had to spread the court, and [freshman setter] Max [Klineman] also came in for us that first set and did a nice job of finding hitters, giving us a makeshift offense.”

During the second set, both teams recorded numerous back-and-forth serving errors, until USC’s senior outside hitter Joao Grangeiro went on the set’s first serving run, notching three points for the Trojans and taking the score to 10-8. From there, USC never let go of its lead and was able to efficiently win its only set. The Trojans found their highest hitting percentage of the night, going .516 in the second set, while Santa Barbara hit a .359 clip.

Stepping up for UCSB in the long third set, junior outside hitter Aaron Richman led all scorers with 20 kills on the night, followed closely by Brunner’s and junior middle blocker David Kennedy’s 15 individual putaways. Early on in the third set, Santa Barbara fell behind, but was able to tie up the score dangerously late in the game at 28, behind one of Richman’s blocks on the night. Richman and Brunner combined for five kills to finally win the set, taking a 2-1 lead for UCSB.

“There wasn’t really any pressure tonight with Evan missing,” Klineman said. “I’m really happy we got the win tonight and hopefully we’ll do some damage in the playoffs.”

Last night’s win almost definitely ensures UCSB a trip to the playoffs, as it separated the previous game and a half lead over USC in the standings. The Gauchos will face #5 Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif., this Saturday.