The #14 UCSB men’s volleyball team cannot wait to play their first conference game at home, as the Gauchos dropped their second consecutive match on the road, falling to USC in consecutive sets 30-23, 30-26, 30-19 on Friday night.
The Gauchos (1-4 overall, 0-2 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) entered the match having beaten USC (2-3, 1-1 MPSF) in seven straight matches, but ran out of offensive firepower against the Trojans’ high-intensity attack.
“I think we played well, but we just didn’t execute as we would have liked to,” sophomore outside hitter Jake Rosener said. “We didn’t change what we needed to do in our game strategy, while they adapted and took advantage of this.”
In the early stages of game one, the Gauchos managed to keep the score close. After junior middle blocker Matt Thobe’s service ace brought the Gauchos within two – trailing 11 to nine – the Trojans unleashed an 11-3 run, creating a 10-point deficit which UCSB was unable to overcome, losing the game 30-23.
Game two offered the Gauchos their best opportunity of the match, as the Trojans had their lowest hitting percentage of the match posting a respectable .359 clip. But once again, a late run ended the Gauchos’ chances. With a one-point lead late in the match, the Gauchos surrendered five straight points to the Trojans, which featured two assisted blocks by senior middle Andrew Vernon.
Senior outside hitter Phil Mathews contributed nine kills and an impressive .571 hitting percentage and junior Mike Runkle passed for 35 assists to aid the Gauchos’ cause. Freshman Jeff Menzel led the Gauchos with 14 kills but managed to hit only at a .200 clip for the match. Menzel, along with sophomores Sam Moisenco and Rosener, represent the youth movement that has taken over the Gauchos’ roster.
“We essentially lost all our starters from last year,” Rosener said. “Right now, [Head Coach Ken Preston] is trying to figure out who should play what position, and it’s still early in the season so we have time to gain the experience. We have a more scrappy offense this year, but it’s not the same as last year’s.”
The Gauchos will play their next five games at home, starting with Saturday’s tilt with Cal State Northridge. The Gauchos are optimistic that some home cooking will cure what ails their offensive slump.
“We expect a good game and to find an offense that works,” Rosener said. “We watched videos from earlier this season so we can learn weakness and capitalize in the game.”