Despite starting the season with a two-match win streak over Northern Californian teams #11 Pacific and Stanford, the #6 UCSB men’s volleyball team’s true test comes tonight as the Gauchos welcome the reigning national champions, #3 UCLA for a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation showdown.
“We think we can beat them,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “We are not succumbing to the UCLA mystique. … If we don’t play well against them, we don’t win. But we are not afraid.”
The Gauchos (4-1 overall, 2-0 in the MPSF) enter this match with better records than UCLA (2-3, 0-2 MPSF). Despite this disparity, UCLA was the team that handed the Gauchos their first loss of the season in the UCSB-hosted Elephant Bar Tournament, defeating the Gauchos in three games 30-22, 36-34 and 30-26.
“We are out to get vengeance,” junior outside hitter Michael Fisher said “If there was one match since the tournament that we were looking forward to, this would be it. We want to give them a really good match and surprise them. I don’t think they are ready to see how much we improved since then.”
The Bruins are coming off of two consecutive sweeps at the hands of #2 Brigham Young University (4-0, 2-0 MPSF), while UCSB recorded two wins over Pacific (2-3, 1-1 MPSF) and Stanford (0-5, 0-2 MPSF). In the match against Pacific, the Gauchos rallied from a two-game deficit to take the match in five games.
“It was good to get the five-game win, because we expect it from UCLA,” sophomore setter Max Klineman said. “It’s also good to practice playing our best volleyball. We don’t think that the Pacific and Stanford matches are comparable to UCLA, because [UCLA] has a better team.”
The Bruins are led by senior opposite Steve Klosterman and senior outside hitter Paul George. Klosterman has accumulated 51 kills and holds an average of 3.19 kills per game. George has amassed 63 kills with an average of 4.20 per game and a .419 hitting clip. UCLA is collectively hitting .304 as a team, while freshman quick hitter Shaun Nichols leads UCLA with a .611 hitting average – good for third in the MPSF.
“They are champions, but they are definitely beatable,” Fisher said. “They have two go-to guys, and if we shut them down, we will do fine.”
On the other side of the net, the Gauchos are led by senior opposite Evan Patak, who was recently named the MPSF Player of the Week because of his 40-kill performance against Pacific. In that match, he also led the Gauchos in aces with six and digs at 13. Patak leads the MPSF in kills with 55, and is averaging 6.88 kills per game, as well as aces with 1.12 aces per game. Season-wise, Patak leads the Gauchos with 18 aces. Junior middle blocker Theo Brunner leads the Gauchos with a .554 hitting percentage and senior middle blocker David Kennedy leads the Gauchos with 21 total blocks.
“We have a motto on the team, ‘NCNL: National Champions Nothing Less,'” senior outside hitter Aaron Richman said. “That means that every game, we compete 110 percent. We have to keep learning with every game, keep growing and building together. It’s going to be a great year for us. We have a very strong team. We know we can beat these teams.”
Tonight’s opening serve is set for 7 p.m. in Rob Gym.