Four matches into the conference schedule, the UCSB men’s volleyball team found themselves winless and buried in the standings. Three matches later, the Gauchos are on fire.
This past weekend, #13 UCSB (4-6 overall, 3-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) welcomed #15 Hawaii to Rob Gym for a two match tilt. The Gauchos managed to take control of both seesaw matches when it came to overtime situations, sending the Warriors (3-6, 2-4 in the MPSF) back to the island winless. Led by senior middle blocker and last week’s AVCA and MPSF Player of the Week Theo Brunner’s 46 kills – 21 and 25 respectively – and junior setter Max Klineman’s 13.67 assists per game, the Gauchos exited the weekend back in the thick of the conference standings.
“[This weekend] shows the importance of Theo [Brunner] to our team,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “We put him back in the middle to stop a problem there. We made adjustments to the lineup, which made this weekend’s match one of the most evenly distributed ones we’ve had all season, but we still have to get the ball to him.”
This week the Gauchos hope to get their first road wins of the season when they meet familiar faces in #9 Stanford (7-4, 3-4 in the MPSF) and Pacific (1-9, 1-6 in the MPSF). In the last meeting against Stanford, the Gauchos fell in straight games but hopes to even out the season series with a win today on the road. Saturday, UCSB looks to complete the Tiger hat trick and beat Pacific for the third time this year, after sweeping the Tigers at Rob Gym in their last match up.
“After we lost a tight one to Stanford this past weekend we knew we could pull [wins] out,” Preston said. “These wins put us into 7th place, but we’re not out of the woods yet. The playoffs are tough to get into in this conference.”
UCSB currently sits in a three-way tie in the conference standings, matching #8 UC Irvine and #9 Stanford’s 3-4 record. In the MPSF, only the top eight teams make the playoffs, making this weeks Nor Cal swing critical for the Gauchos playoff hopes.
In the early stages of the season UCSB was hard pressed for chemistry, with Preston experimenting with new lineups on a daily basis. After a tall, well-dressed announcer took over the mic, the Gauchos have yet to lose, as it seems that they have finally found a winning combination. Saturday’s duo of senior outside hitter Phil Mathews and junior setter Mike Runkle on the left side, who tallied 19 and 12 kills respectively, worked well in juxtaposition to Brunner in the middle and freshman Jeff Menzel hitting on the right.
“[The lineup] will stay this way,” Preston said. “The left sides hit well, they passed well; that’s the key to a good offense.”