The roller coaster season for the #12 UCSB men’s volleyball team continues today, as the Gauchos face two SoCal teams on the bottom end of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation spectrum. Tonight’s game pits Santa Barbara (7-8 overall, 5-6 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) against #11 UC San Diego (4-12, 1-10 MPSF), followed by a Saturday game against first place #2 Long Beach State (12-1, 8-1 MPSF).
The Gauchos are coming off a week where they managed to down rival #7 UCLA in four games at home, but were swept by defending national champions #6 Irvine just three days later. UCSB has been hovering around .500 all season and continues to be a middle-of-the-pack team in a very difficult conference.
Friday’s match against the bottom-dwelling Tritons has the Gauchos facing a team on a five-game losing-streak and next to last in the conference standings. UCSD ranks dead-last in the conference in hitting-percentage, hitting at just a .199 clip on the season. Despite the team’s struggles, the Tritons are led by sophomore outside hitter Jason Spangler, who ranks fourth in the conference with 4.57 kills per game.
“San Diego is a team that if you take for granted they can definitely sneak up on you,” Associate Head Coach Lee Nelson said. “They’re big, athletic, and if they get momentum they can take advantage. They played USC strong last week and beat Irvine earlier this year, so we can’t take them for granted.”
On Saturday, the Gauchos will face the MPSF’s top dog when they enter the 49ers’ “Gold Mine” gymnasium for the teams’ first meeting of the season. Long Beach currently sports a three-game winning-streak, with the only blemish on their record being a loss to #5 Pepperdine two weeks ago. Senior outside hitter Paul Lotman and sophomore middle blocker Dan Alexander are the crux of an offense that ranks first in the conference in nearly every offensive category. Lotman currently leads the conference in kills per game, pummeling an astonishing 5.95 kills per game, edging out UCSB’s Jeff Menzel with 4.87 kpg, and Alexander leads the conference in hitting percentage with an efficient .562.
“We’re expecting a lot from Long Beach having seen them play earlier the season,” Nelson said. “They’re good in the middle and on the outside and you don’t get to be number two in the country for nothing. We just need to have consistent passing to feed [senior middle blocker Theo] Brunner. If we don’t, it puts too much stress on our outsides.”