The UCSB men’s volleyball team narrowly escaped undersized UC Santa Cruz this past Friday, dropping the Banana Slugs in three tight games 30-28, 30-28, and 30-28.

The #14 Gauchos (6-7 overall) took a break from their Mountain Pacific Sports Federation schedule to play the Division III Banana Slugs (11-6) for the 14th time in the series – with the Gauchos holding a flawless 14-0 record in the series. The #3 volleyball program in Division III, UCSC gave the Gauchos problems at the net despite being much shorter and UCSB had the slight advantage in blocks, 12-10.

“I thought [Santa Cruz] played well; they’re a good team, a really good team,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “It was not a good game for us. We won, but basically we couldn’t close it out. When you hit the ball one inch over the net, it doesn’t matter how big you are, you’re not going to do well.”

The Gauchos played without back-to-back MPSF Player of the Week senior middle blocker Theo Brunner, letting the younger players see the majority of the action. Sophomores Jake Rosener and Sam Moisenco had seven kills apiece by way of freshman setter Vince Devany’s team-leading 21 assists. Both the Gauchos and the Banana Slugs had poor hitting percentages on the night, with the Gauchos edging their foes with a .222 clip over the Slug’s .184.

“Theo wasn’t going to play, so I went with the next best thing,” Preston said. “I wasn’t going to put Brunner in; this group would have won or lost the match for us.”

Game one was a close battle for both teams, as UCSB and Santa Cruz tied each other 14 times, featuring seven lead changes. The two teams worked the score to a 28-28 stalemate until a Santa Cruz service error and a combination block by both Rosener and Moisenco gave the Gauchos the 30-28 victory.

Games two and three followed suit, as the Gauchos narrowly edged the Banana Slugs in the closing points of the match. A season high 14 Gauchos made their way onto the court during the match. Freshman Jeff Menzel, UCSB’s kill-per-game leader, was a nonfactor, recording three kills and a negative .250 hitting percentage in one game. Santa Cruz was led by Bryan Shires, who recorded a match-high 14 kills with Brad Sullivan right behind him with 13.

The Gauchos and Brunner hope to regroup for this week’s meeting against rival MPSF opponent UCLA.

“Our guys just didn’t play good,” Preston said. “Menzel played poorly so I put in Rosener. Sam played well, but he’s the only guy I thought played really well. We are going to have to play a lot better with UCLA coming here next week.”

The Gauchos play host to the Bruins Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Rob Gym.