The #13 UCSB men’s volleyball team continues their four-match road swing down south to face #3 Cal State Northridge tonight in Northridge. The Gauchos (5-8 overall, 7-10 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) are on a three-match losing streak, while the Matadors (10-3, 14-4 MPSF) are riding an eight-game winning streak, most recently defeating and displacing the previous #3 team, Long Beach State.
“[Northridge] just beat Long Beach [State] in five this past weekend and [UC] San Diego in four,” Associate Head Coach Lee Nelson said. “They are a very good team, so we will definitely have our hands full tomorrow night.”
The Gauchos have previously faced Northridge only once in the 2008 season, falling in four games in January in Santa Barbara. In that match, junior outside hitter Eric Vance made a career-high 26 kills to lead the Matadors. Vance’s average of 4.42 kills per game is ranked sixth in the MPSF. In the match against Long Beach, Northridge was led by sophomore middle Kevin McKniff, who had a career-high 18 kills and a .708 attack percentage. McKniff’s .424 hitting percentage is ranked fourth in the MPSF. He is joined by fellow Matador freshman middle Cody Loe, whose .413 hitting percentage is fifth in the MPSF.
“We have a pretty good sense of them,” Nelson said. “We played them here and in our tournament at the beginning of the year. They changed some things, but they are pretty good in the middle and they run a quick offense. They have some small, very fast, effective outside hitters. They have a freshman, Cody Loe, who has been doing pretty well for them in the middle.”
The Gauchos, who were recently upset by UC San Diego in three games, will have to face Northridge without their leading blocker, sophomore middle Sam Moisenco. Moisenco, who rolled his ankle against UC San Diego, will be replaced by junior middle Matt Thobe and freshman opposite Cullen Irons. Irons played the majority of the minutes in the match against Long Beach State, recording six kills, one ace and five block assists.
“Cullen Irons had a very good match against Long Beach,” Nelson said. “He went six-for-six and had some good blocks. He is a good server. Thobe also played well; he just didn’t get a lot of playing time.”
Offensively, the Gauchos are led by freshman opposite Jeff Menzel, who is ranked second in the MPSF with a 4.87 kpg average. Without Moisenco’s average of 1.31 blocks, the Gauchos will rely on senior middle Theo Brunner, who is second on the squad with an average of just under one block per game, as well as Irons and Thobe.
“I think we did turn it around after [UC] San Diego and played one of our better matches,” Nelson said. “We just have to be able to close some games out after 25. I think that if we need to focus on anything that would be something we can do to help us win some matches.”