This past weekend, the UCSB men’s volleyball team rode up to NorCal sitting in a three-way tie for seventh place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. With a weekend split against conference foes, the Gauchos continue to cling to their playoff hopes.
Friday night, the #13 Gauchos (5-7 overall, 4-5 in the MPSF) fell to #9 Stanford (8-5, 4-5 in the MPSF) in four games (30-25, 23-30, 30-21, 30-18) for the second time this season, snapping their three-match winning streak. Despite controlling the net – out blocking the Cardinal 14-9 – and a match-high 20 kills by senior middle blocker Theo Brunner, the Gauchos were unable to stop Stanford’s offense. The Cardinal were led by the duo of Evan Romero and Matt Ceran, who recorded 15 kills each. Romero and Ceran, who tallied 17 kills apiece in the teams’ first meeting of the season, accounted for 46 percent of the Cardinal offense.
Game one was the closest of the match. Featuring 12 tied scores and poor hitting percentages for both teams, the seesaw battle finally came to a close when Gaucho errors fueled a 5-0 Stanford run. Game two was all UCSB, as the Gauchos limited Stanford to a .126 hitting percentage, while hitting at a .375 clip. Behind Brunner’s attack and assists from junior setter Max Klineman, the Gauchos steamrolled the Cardinal 30-23. Unfortunately, this game managed to be UCSB’s one hit wonder of the match, as the Gauchos dropped the next two games without much resistance, with scores of 21-30 and 18-30.
On Saturday, UCSB managed put Friday’s match behind them and pick up their first road win of the season, dropping the Pacific Tigers (1-11, 1-8 in the MPSF) in four games 28-30, 30-26, 31-29 and 30-22. Both Brunner and freshman hitter Jeff Menzel led the Gauchos with 18 kills, while junior outside Mike Runkle and senior outside Michael Fisher also pitched in with double-digit kill counts at 10 and 11, respectively. Pekka Sepannen pounded an astounding 33 kills in the losing effort for the Tigers.
During the win, Brunner became the ninth Gaucho in school history to eclipse the 1,000-kill plateau. The Ridgefield, Conn., native came into the week as both the MPSF and American Volleyball Coaches Association player of the week with his efforts in the team’s wins over Hawaii. Brunner, who also tied a career high with eight blocks in the match, sits near the top of nearly every Gaucho offensive category, as he sits in the top 10 in kills, block assists, block total and set a new school record last season by posting a .531 attack percentage.
Brunner and the Gauchos return to Rob Gym this week with a nonconference match against UC Santa Cruz Friday night at 7.