Despite last weekend’s loss to Pepperdine, the #8 UCSB men’s volleyball team managed to secure a playoff spot for next week, most likely against long-time rival #6 UCLA, who it will face tonight during the last season home match.
This year, Santa Barbara (13-13 overall, 9-11 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) has yet to win a set against the Bruins (18-12, 10-10 MPSF) and for the second consecutive time will face them without leading scorer junior opposite Evan Patak, who will sit out the rest of the season.
“We’re just starting to get used to our new lineup again,” sophomore middle blocker Theo Brunner said. “We’ve kind of been changing things around a little bit more, but we’re confident that we have the ability to beat everyone with the support we have.”
The MPSF postseason tournament matches the number #7 and #8 seeds for a preliminary play-in round to decide who will face the #2 seed in the second round. The game will be hosted at the site of the #7 seed next Wednesday, April 19.
With UCSB and UCLA so close in the rankings, tonight’s matchup could be practice for the play-in round if the Gauchos win their final two matches of the season this week, while UCLA drops its final pair. Long Beach State is another potential candidate to face Santa Barbara in the playoffs.
“These next two games are two separate matches,” freshman setter Max Klineman said. “It’d be nice to win both, but when it comes to the playoffs, everyone’s going to play their hearts out. … It’s nice to beat a team you haven’t beat and this is a long-standing rivalry going back to the ’70s, when UCSB and UCLA were first two teams. It means a lot, but if we don’t get pumped up for this team, no one will pump us up.”
Last Saturday, Pepperdine (15-7, 14-5 MPSF) swept the Gauchos 30-28, 30-22 and 30-24. UCSB was led by junior outside hitter Aaron Richman’s 14 kills on the night followed by Brunner’s 12 putaways, the only other Gaucho to score in the double-digits.
“We played well but had some issues that I think we’ve worked out with right side hitting, that we’re working out in practice,” Brunner said. “But as far as I’m concerned, the playoffs start this Wednesday.”
Tonight’s first serve is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. in Rob Gym.