After asserting their dominance over #12 USC in the opening match of the Elephant Bar Invitational last Friday, the #6 Gauchos floundered against #3 UCLA and landed themselves in the consolation match on Saturday.
Behind their multifaceted attack, the Gauchos (2-1 overall) needed only four games to roll over the cold-hitting Matadors in Robertson Gym to collect their third place finish and match their tournament seed.
“Serving wasn’t really clicking [on Friday], but we handled USC. They were pretty soft,” junior outside hitter Michael Fisher said. “But we’re a better team [than UCLA], and we know we’re a better team; it’s just a matter of time. We just need to hit the gym a little bit and perfect our mechanics and we’ll be ok. We play them again in a week and a half, and we plan on just throttling them; we’re going to kill them.”
Senior opposite Evan Patak earned a spot on the All-Tournament team with an impressive closing match, in which he tallied 6 aces and 14 kills to lead the Gauchos past Northridge.
While UCSB proved itself as a balanced team on offense, the consistent play that Patak brings to the table has earned him recognition as the team’s most prominent force.
“There’s only a few sports where the defense starts with the ball, so if you can serve aces [as Patak did this weekend] its big points,” Fisher said. “He brings us a weapon in almost any play and in any rotation. He can hit really well in the back row and he can hit better than a lot of players in the front row – and he’s serving really well. It’s basically like having a power hitter like Barry Bonds [on offense and defense].”
Junior middle blocker Theo Brunner put up a remarkable .800 attack percentage in the consolation final against Northridge after going 15 hits without an error.
But on the defensive side of things, the Gauchos showed considerable deficiency in the UCLA match as they struggled to handle the offensive threats of All-Tournament players Paul George and Steve Klosterman.
“UCLA was a good squad, [but] we didn’t do enough to shut them down,” Fisher said. “Across all sports, defensive teams will win championships. Defense builds good offense, but if you’re practicing against a defense that isn’t so good, then when you play in a match against a team that has a better block up, it forces you to be a better player and a better hitter.”
The third place finish was by no means a disappointment, but in a weekend where the Gauchos exhibited flashes of brilliance, the potential to reach greater heights and knock off members of the nation’s elite is unmistakable.
“We’re a team that can start out against anybody, which means that where we struggle is our blocking, defense and [in making] mistakes like missing passes at key points in the match,” Fisher [[ok]] said. “We have the ability to beat anybody in the league, but it’s just a matter of getting our team to click at the same time.”
The Gauchos will be back this weekend as they begin league play up north against Pacific and Stanford; to succeed they will need to combine the lethal play of Patak with the defensive consistency that it takes to drop a top-five opponent.
“It doesn’t matter who’s out there, [Patak] can bring the heat,” sophomore setter Max Klineman said. “He served a number of aces right off the bat against one of the [country’s] top opponents and it seems like every blocker in the nation is scared of him. He brings a [great] presence because he’s so big and strong.”