The hard-luck #4 Gauchos continued their downward spiral last night, extending their first losing streak of the season to three games as they dropped a 3-1 decision to #11 Northridge.
After jumping out of the gates with a 30-23 victory in game one, wherein the team trailed only after the first point of the match, Santa Barbara (12-6 overall, 10-5 MPSF) surrendered dominance in game two by losing by the same mark.
“[In game one] we were passing well and they were missing lots of serves; we just sided out really well,” said junior outside hitter Michael Fisher. “But after missing those serves, they came back in the next three games and were serving pretty well – really well compared to that first game.”
In game three, the Gauchos took the first point, but mirroring their game one performance, the Matadors (9-9 overall, 7-6 MPSF) would strike back to take a lead they would never again relinquish. Game four stood tied at 21, but that was as close as the Gauchos would get to forcing a fifth and final game. Twice they cut the lead to one at 26-25 and 27-26, but a couplet of Gaucho errors and an ace from service at match point from the Matadors’ sophomore Eric Vance ended the night.
The win for the Northridge put an end to its two-game skid and showcased the dynamic play of senior opposite Dan Rhodes. Rhodes, who just returned from an ankle injury two games ago in Los Angeles, put up his most dominant match offensively of the season against Northridge, hitting .444 on the night and finished with 25 kills.
“There were some question marks [going in, like] whether Rhodes would be healthy, but he was healthy and he was playing well,” Fisher said. “They served well and we didn’t; we served very conservatively.”
The three game slide and the team’s most recent loss will undoubtedly effect Santa Barbara’s poll position and possibly remove them from the country’s top five for the first time since January 14.
Fisher attributed much of the team’s demise to conservative play from the service line.
“We’re in a slump right now, so we need to believe in ourselves and man up, especially in practice and at the service line,” he said. “We need to be more aggressive and unified on the court.”
Senior opposite Evan Patak led the UCSB effort with 27 kills and a .489 hitting percentage.
The team returns to action this Friday and Saturday nights against Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne.
“It’s more about our game [than about Indiana-Purdue],” Fisher said. “[By Friday] we’ll know their game and what we need to do to contain them, but most of all we need to serve more aggressively.”