The #6 UCSB men’s volleyball team traveled up to Northern California for two games over this past weekend, coming away with a three-game winning streak and a 2-0 record in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play.
The Gauchos held off #14 Pacific for a five-set victory to start the regular season on a winning note.
“[Winning this trip was] really big because it’s on the road,” junior outside hitter Michael Fisher said. “Last year we lost our first match to Pacific. They are a good team, they pass well, serve well and play well.”
After losing the first two sets, the Gauchos (4-1 overall, 2-0 in the MPSF) finally combined for a .429 hitting percentage in the third game to cut the Pacific (2-3 overall, 1-1 MPSF) advantage to only one game. Senior opposite hitter and UCSBGauchos.com Athlete of the Week Evan Patak led the Gauchos to a 21-12 lead in the third game before a kill from Patak ended game three 30-23.
“The first match, it was a shock, and in the second we weren’t really focused on the other team, we were focusing on ourselves,” Fisher said. “Patak did a great job calming everyone down and getting them focused. He just put the team on his back and led us. He was just huge. He was calm, collected and confident.”
In game four, both teams were locked in a 31-31 tie until a kill from junior middle blocker Theo Brunner and an attack error from the Tigers tied the match at two games apiece. The Gauchos controlled game five early on until the Tigers got within one point at 7-6, the closest they would get the rest of the night. After the Tigers pulled within two at 14-12, senior setter Bart Kowalski hit the final kill to end the game 15-12 and give the Gauchos the five-set victory.
“The NorCal road trip is a tough one,” sophomore setter Max Klineman said. “Last year we dropped a match to Pacific that we should have won. It’s was good to get the five-game win”
Patak led the Gauchos with 40 kills, a season high, as well as six service aces and 13 digs. Brunner was second on the team with 23 kills and first with a .667 hitting percentage. For the Tigers, senior outside hitter Matt Cornell led all teams with 25 kills.
Sunday’s game against the unranked Stanford Cardinal went smoother for UCSB: The Gauchos swept Stanford 30-21, 30-25 and 30-21, for their third consecutive win.
“Stanford is a young team and was less confident,” Fisher said. “Because it was the second match of the weekend, we were prepared for it and were ready to play. Because they are young, they would make a lot of errors. The key is not to play at their level, but play at ours, and we did that.”
In game one, Stanford (0-5 overall, 0-2 MPSF) tied it up at 10-10, but the Gauchos were able to hold on for a 30-21 victory thanks to a couple of kills by senior middle blocker David Kennedy and one by Brunner. In game two, there were several lead changes, with the Cardinal going on a 5-1 run to take a 21-17 lead. However, Stanford committed several attack errors, allowing the Gauchos to regain the lead 27-24. UCSB eventually won the game 30-25 to take a 2-0 advantage heading into the third game. Three Gauchos recorded double-digit kills; Patak led the group with 15, followed by Kennedy and Brunner who had 12 kills apiece.
“In this game, we found that everyone could contribute,” senior outside hitter Aaron Richman said. “Everyone participated after a close match with Pacific. We learned to never underestimate any team. We just take it game by game.”