On the tail end of its first two-game losing streak of the season, the #4 UCSB men’s volleyball team continues its road trip tonight at 7, heading to Northridge to face #8 Cal State Northridge.
While the back-to-back losses do dent the season record, the Gauchos (12-5, 10-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) shouldn’t be too concerned considering the defeats came at the hands of #2 UC Irvine and #5 UCLA. On the flipside, a loss in Northridge would put Santa Barbara in a sizeable hole, midway through the season.
The Matadors (8-9, 6-6 MPSF) have shown their ability to challenge the best teams in the league, taking both the Bruins (10-7, 8-6 MPSF) and #1 Pepperdine to five games in conference play. UCSB fell in three straight to the Waves (13-1, 11-1 MPSF) and have lost two of three contests against this season. CSUN even stole a game from the Anteaters (17-3, 11-3 MPSF), as did UCSB.
At home, the Matadors are nothing special, owning a 3-3 record in the Matadome. But they do boast a balanced attack that includes four players with over 125 kills this season.
As the setter, junior Travis Bluemling is averaging more than 12 assists a game and played a significant part in the Matadors’ three-game winning streak that preceded last week’s dual losses to UCLA and Irvine.
Senior opposite Evan Patak continues to be a driving force behind Santa Barbara’s overall success this season, as he currently leads the nation in service aces and ranks second in points per game.
But Patak has had help this season, especially in last Friday’s loss in Los Angeles where four other Gauchos posted at least 10 kills, among them junior middle blocker Theo Brunner who finished with a team-high 14. Brunner is sixth in the country in hitting percentage, while senior middle blocker David Kennedy is 13th, and senior setter Bart Kowalski averages the sixth most assists per game.
A sizeable buzz has formed surrounding Head Coach Ken Preston’s win total, which currently sits at 498. With a trio of road matches this week against teams of lesser standing, chances are high he will reach the 500 plateau.
Before returning home from tonight’s match, the Gauchos will head across the country to face the #8 Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons and their star outside hitter C.J. Macias, who ranks fifth in the nation in kill percentage. Even outside league play, there is not any rest for the weary.