Fresh off of its recent upset over #3 UCLA, the #6 UCSB men’s volleyball team leaves the friendly confines of Rob Gym this weekend in order to maintain its perfect conference record. Facing arguably the toughest team in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, the Gauchos (5-1 overall, 3-0 in the MPSF) will travel to Irvine on Saturday for a match against the #1 Anteaters.
Irvine (6-0, 3-0 MPSF), which sits atop the national rankings of the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll for the third consecutive week, is on a winning streak unmatched in college volleyball this season. The Anteaters have not dropped a set in their last five matches, and have won 18 of their last 19 games.
“They don’t make errors, and their transition game is excellent,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “They are a solid team. They have six of their starting seven back from their Final Four appearance last year. They are a smooth team. They take care of the ball when they dig.”
Irvine is led by a number of different players, with seniors opposite Matt Webber and outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky leading the pack. Webber leads Irvine with 4.44 kills per game, with a grand total of 80 on the season. Jablonsky – last year’s MPSF and AVCA player of the year – leads Irvine with 82 kills, averaging 4.32 kills per game. Senior middle blocker David Smith leads Irvine with a .549 hitting percentage.
“They have Jablonsky, AVCA National Player of the Year, [and] Webber, their opposite,” Preston said. “I know they go to their middles quite frequently. … Smith is very efficient. It’s very hard to determine who is the best when they go to offense, [but] Webber and Jablonsky are their key hitters.”
The Gauchos recently packed Rob Gym with 830 fans and pulled off a five-game upset over then-#3 UCLA (2-4, 0-3 MPSF) for their fourth consecutive victory.
“Thank the crowd for the support [for] the coaching staff and the players,” Assistant Coach Larry Milliken said. “It was just like the old days. I haven’t seen that in a long time.”
In the match against the Bruins, the Gauchos saw three players with double-digit kill totals, with 31 from senior opposite Evan Patak leading the team. Patak also leads the Gauchos on the season with 136 kills, averaging 5.91 per game. Effective serving has been a powerful weapon for the Gauchos this season. Santa Barbara has recorded 41 service aces thus far, with Patak accounting for half.
“We have to serve pretty tough, have to take them out of the system [and] work on transitioning better,” Preston said. “That will be our focus for the next week. Just get a little tougher serving and get better transitions [and] more efficient.”
Senior outside hitter Aaron Richman said that he hopes to take the Gauchos’ upset over UCLA and translate it into another upset over UC Irvine on Saturday.
“The win against UCLA was a huge confidence booster,” Richman said. “We have prepared mentally and physically for this game. Hope to take the momentum.”
Tomorrow’s first serve is set for 2 p.m. at Irvine.