The #12 UCSB men’s volleyball team’s playoff hopes took a big hit this weekend, as the Gauchos were upset in San Diego before coming within a couple points of shocking the #2 team in the country in Long Beach.
The Gauchos (7-10 overall, 5-8 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) played down to host UC San Diego (5-13, 2-11 in the MPSF), falling in consecutive sets 30-27, 30-22, 30-24 to the bottom-dwelling Tritons. The win for the Tritons marks just the second win in 34 meetings between the two schools.
“We played an average game, and [San Diego] was great,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “You can’t have average games in our league and win. Historically, people have considered San Diego to be a weak team, but you can’t count out any team in this league, and Friday showed that.”
Sophomores Jason Spangler and Frank Fritsch both hit over .500 for San Diego, powering an offensive explosion for one of the weakest hitting teams in the MPSF. The Tritons managed to out-hit, out-block and out-play the Gauchos for three games. UCSB had its best chance at winning a game in the first frame. With the Gauchos trailing 21-20 in game one, a 5-0 Triton run featuring a Spangler kill and several Gaucho errors put the game out of reach. The Gauchos failed to hold a lead in either the second or third games.
The poor showing by the Gauchos on Friday was avenged on Saturday, as Santa Barbara had one of its best matches of the season against the 49ers (13-2, 9-2 in the MPSF). UCSB got a career game from senior middle blocker Theo Brunner, who crushed a personal best 26 kills in the match. Brunner’s career day and freshman phenom Jeff Menzel’s 22 kills were not enough to spur a Gaucho upset, as the 49ers took the match in five games – 30-27, 30-28, 28-30, 25-30, 15-13.
“The difference between this game and the San Diego game could be a few things: Maybe we were just motivated more, or [Long Beach] was tired, but I think we played an excellent match either way,” Preston said. “Defensively, we played great, getting good digs and Menzel hit well, but in the end, we didn’t make the plays to come up with the upset.”
After dropping the first two games, the Gauchos managed to rally themselves to take a close game three and a convincing game four – setting up a dramatic fifth and final game. After trading points early in the final game, both teams were deadlocked at nine all. A three-point run, capped by freshman Cullen Irons’ service ace, gave the Gauchos a 12-9 lead, but an ace by the 49ers and a hitting error by Menzel gave Long Beach a game-ending combination.
The Gauchos will try to break their three-game losing streak this Wednesday when they visit Cal State Northridge.