Last night’s game during the play-in round between seventh-seeded UCLA and #9 UCSB essentially summed up the Gauchos’ entire season. For much of the year, the Gauchos lacked players – whether due to injuries or academic ineligibility – but could not find the consistency necessary to pull out a victory. For the whole season, the biggest opponent UCSB had to face was on its own side of the net.
Santa Barbara (13-15 overall, 9-13 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) came out fired up to win the first set 30-28, gave UCLA (21-12 overall, 12-10 MPSF) a battle in the second set, but eventually fell to the Bruins 29-31, 23-30 and 15-30.
“I’m disappointed with the way we played in the last two games, and that really was not a convincing win,” sophomore middle blocker Theo Brunner said. “That’s been the story of our whole season. We’ve been up and down and I’m not surprised that we played like that. It just really sucks to go out that way.”
UCSB, however, was finally able to pull out a single-set victory against the Bruins for the first time the season. If Santa Barbara could have consistently played like the first set for the rest of the night, perhaps it would be preparing for the game against #2 Hawaii on Saturday, instead of ending its season prematurely.
In game one, the Gauchos came out with four blocks and a stellar .324 hitting percentage against UCLA’s dismal .229, to take an early 1-0 lead. Junior outside hitter Aaron Richman shone for the Gauchos, notching seven kills en route to a .500 hitting clip in the first set, serving up the first ace to open up and set the tone for the game. Other individual performances, such as Brunner’s 10 total kills on the night and .304 hitting clip, helped Santa Barbara come out ready to go, but could not keep victory in the Gauchos’ hands.
UCLA easily won the next two sets, as UCSB hit .229 and .065, playing like a different team than the one who came out early on in the night.
“We’ve had a lot of inconsistencies this season and we didn’t really play with straight lineup like a lot of teams,” freshman setter Max Klineman said. “We never really got anything going, and we tried to keep playing steady. I think in the future, we just need people to play consistent all season long.”
In the second set, Santa Barbara continued with 10 more blocks and was able to keep the Bruins to a .167 hitting percentage. UCLA, however, managed to pull through with 19 kills to Santa Barbara’s 15. At one point, the Bruins had a five-point lead at 25-20. UCSB quickly managed to tie up the score at 29, but could not hold on to the win.
UCLA continues on to the quarterfinals against #2 Hawaii (23-4 overall) later this week.
“[UCLA is] not that much better than us and we didn’t pay that much attention to the score,” Brunner said. “We can take some positive out of this game because we can have an extremely good time; we’re just as athletic and we know our starters for next year. I imagine us being one of the better teams next year, especially because we had a chance to get everyone else more involved this season.”