The #8 UCSB men’s volleyball team lost its third consecutive game of the season, as #1 UC Irvine clinched its first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title Saturday night, during the last night of regular season play.
The Gauchos (13-15 overall, 9-13 in the MPSF) lost 30-25, 30-22 and 30-25, but still have another chance to head into postseason play, during next week’s “play-in” round at UCLA to determine who will advance to play #2 Hawaii in the quarterfinals.
“We’re just trying to find our identity, since losing [junior opposite Evan Patak] was pretty tough for us,” sophomore middle blocker Theo Brunner said. “We’re getting better every match, and I believe next Wednesday is extremely winnable for us. We just need to pull out the win and head to Hawaii.”
The Anteaters (27-3, 20-2 MPSF) first place ranking ensures them of the first place seed in the MPSF tournament, and they will receive a bye in the first round and will host the semifinals and finals April 27 and 29.
In the first set, it looked like both teams were evenly matched, but with the score knotted at 10 on both sides of the net, one of junior setter Brian Thornton’s aces sparked a 4-1 run for the Anteaters. From there, UCSB could not get within less than two points of Irvine until junior outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky, one of Irvine’s top scorers, slammed the first game-winning kill for Irvine.
“Irvine is the same team that they’ve been in the past,” Brunner said. “They’re just getting really good and they don’t make a lot of errors. That’s been the key for us all season, but we’re still trying to be in the process of minimizing our errors, it’s a big part of volleyball.”
Junior opposite Matt Webber and Jablonsky led UC Irvine with 14 kills apiece. While both teams seemed to be evenly matched early on, Irvine went on to hit .430 on the night compared to Santa Barbara’s .260 hitting clip. The Gauchos made 20 hitting errors on the night, while the Anteaters kept their number down to 11.
In the second set, Irvine jumped on the board early, securing a quick 5-1 lead, which it was able to extend into the most efficient victory on the night, holding Santa Barbara to only 22 points.
The Gauchos were led by Brunner and junior middle blocker David Kennedy, who each had 12 kills, followed by junior outside hitter Bryan Berman’s 11 putaways. Freshman setter Max Klineman served up 43 assists and seven digs for Santa Barbara while sophomore libero Ben Brockman led with 10 digs.
“This team has six solid athletes and it’s just a matter of time getting used to each other,” sophomore outside hitter Mike Fisher said. “I’m not worried about Wednesday, we know what we need to do … We just need to get that confidence going. We have to come out ready to play and get excited.”
Santa Barbara will begin its quest for postseason play Wednesday in Los Angeles.