Coming off the biggest win of the season, the #14 UCSB men’s volleyball team will travel down south to face #7 UC Irvine (8-9 overall, 5-7 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) this Saturday, with hopes of keeping its three-game winning streak alive.
“In the match against UCLA, the guys just elevated their game a lot,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “We didn’t make many errors, [freshman opposite Jeff] Menzel, and [junior outside hitter Mike] Runkle played great, and we were just more motivated.”
Wednesday’s win over the Bruins places UCSB in a three-way tie for sixth place in the conference, with the Gauchos sharing a 5-5 record with #9 Stanford and #8 USC also sitting even at 6-6. Irvine’s loss to Cal State Northridge on Wednesday, coupled with the Gaucho win, has the Anteaters in ninth place in the 12-team conference.
Outside hitters Taylor Wilson (4.37 kills per game) and Cory Yoder (3.22 k/g) lead Irvine’s potent offense, which currently ranks second in the conference with 15.37 kills a game. The ferocity of the outside hitters is complimented by a sound setter in freshman Anthony Spittle, who currently ranks fourth in the MPSF with 12.44 assists per game.
“They’re a good team, with some great outside hitters,” Preston said. “I’m expecting a tough match and a very even game, one that will most likely come down to a couple of points.”
UCSB looks to counter the Anteaters with the usual combination of senior Theo Brunner in the middle and Menzel hitting opposite. The two are the sole Gaucho players averaging over three kills per game. With the newly emerging presence of Runkle on the outside and sophomore Sam Moisenco in the middle, the Gauchos have been able to present a more balanced attack in recent matches. Runkle smashed 15 kills while hitting .429 in the win over UCLA and Moisenco posted seven kills with a .667 clip in Friday’s sweep of UC Santa Cruz. UCSB looks to use all of its weapons as well as the momentum from Wednesday’s win to propel them over the defending national champs.
“I think this week is big,” Preston said. “If we take Saturday’s game it will definitely help out our record, but to get into the playoffs we will need more significant wins. We just need to take the cliché ‘one game at a time’ approach and hopefully we’ll play as well as we did against UCLA.”