After four consecutive wins against lower ranked teams, the #3 UCSB men’s volleyball gets a chance at a higher ranked team when it welcomes the #2 UC Irvine Anteaters for a mid-week game.
The last time the Gauchos (12-3 overall, 10-2 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) faced the Anteaters (15-3, 9-3 MPSF), Irvine defeated the Gauchos in five games.
“We’re hoping to stick it to them,” senior outside hitter Aaron Richman said. “They just came out tough and with aggression. As close as it was, in that match, it was the final points that counted. We are both going to scrap for balls. We both realize that this is an important match. We realize that we are two teams that could face each other in the postseason.”
The Anteaters have won five of their last six games, and are on a three-match win streak. Junior middle blocker Aaron Harrell was just awarded the American Volleyball Coaches Association/MPSF national player of the week honors for the first time in his career. Senior outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky was the first Anteater this season to receive honors. Jablonsky leads the Anteaters in kills, with an average of four per game. Senior opposite Matt Webber is the second offensive threat on the Irvine squad, with an average of 3.88 kills per game, and is first in aces with a total of 24. Webber’s .524 hitting percentage in MPSF games is top in the conference.
The Gauchos – who most recently defeated the Long Beach State 49ers in three games – are on a four-match winning streak of their own. In that match, senior outside hitter Bryan Berman recorded a career high .727 hitting percentage. Berman owns a season .322 hitting percentage, with 95 kills and 31 errors in 199 attempts.
“[Bryan] ‘the Berminator’ has been untouchable,” Richman said. “He works really hard. He had a great match against Long Beach. That might have been the difference. He is a smart player, been really consistent for us.”
Also key for the Gauchos has been senior setter Bart Kowalski. Kowalski is tops in the conference with an average of 13.63 sets per game in MPSF matches. Senior opposite Evan Patak is always a threat for the Gauchos, as he leads UCSB and the rest of the conference in the majority of the offensive categories. Patak leads in kills with 6.09 per game, aces at 53 and points with 347 on the season. Other players are also an offensive threat for the Gauchos, with junior middle blocker Theo Brunner posting a 3.05 kill per game average, and Richman’s 2.14 average.
“This is definitely our biggest game of the season,” Richman said. “It would be great to see our fans out there. We absolutely love our fans. We have, hands down, the best fans in the conference.”
First serve is set for 7 p.m. at Rob Gym.