With the end of the season in sight, the #5 UCSB men’s volleyball team travels down to #12 USC for their second to last Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match.
The Gauchos (18-10 overall, 13-7 in the MPSF) will face the Trojans (12-13 overall, 9-11 MPSF) tonight at 7 p.m. Santa Barbara, fresh off a sweep of Cal State Northridge, has already clinched a playoff spot in the eight-team MPSF tournament. UCSB needs to win one more match, or a UCLA loss, to secure a home quarterfinal match.
Gaucho senior opposite Evan Patak recently became the second UCSB player to pass the 2,000 kill mark in last week’s match against Cal State Northridge (16-13, 10-10 MPSF). Due to his 25 kill performance against the Matadors, Patak was named the MPSF Co-Player of the Week for the second consecutive week. This is the fourth time Patak earned the award and he is the only player in the conference to receive the honor twice. Patak leads the country in kills averaging 5.65 per game, aces with an average 1.01 and points with 7.03.
“[Patak’s] a beast, he’s unstoppable,” senior outside hitter Aaron Richman said. “He has a great work ethic, the spark plug for our team. We all look up to him. He’s a great guy on and off the court.”
Junior middle blocker Theo Brunner, who collected his 800th career kill on Friday, is on pace to set a record of his own. With his season hitting percentage of .544 – good for third in the nation – Brunner is well on his way to breaking the single season hitting percentage mark of .486, set by himself in 2005. His average of 1.07 blocks per game leads the team.
“Theo is a great hitter,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “He can really turn around the blocks. He has good wrists. If someone takes one shot away from him, he can turn around to another. He is having a great season; I think he should be considered for All-American honors.”
To qualify for the playoffs, USC needs to win one more game or have Pacific (14-15, 8-12 MPSF) lose in order to secure a spot in the tournament. The Trojans recently defeated the Tigers in five games to bump their ranking up two spots from 14th nationally to 12th. In that victory, junior outside hitter Juan Figueroa recorded 28 kills and 10 digs – his 5.11 kills per game average is first on the squad and third in the MPSF. Sophomore opposite C.J. Schellenberg is second on the team with a 3.63 kills average, while junior setter Jimmy Killian is third in the MPSF with 12.88 assists per game.
“As of now, everybody is pretty good,” Preston said. “They are all fighting for a playoff spot. I know they will be motivated to play us. They have good players, their middles are pretty good. We can’t assume anything just because we are ranked higher than them. We really need a win over SC.”