The UCSB men’s volleyball team’s playoff hopes took a big hit last night, while rival UCLA managed to capture a conference playoff berth. The #14 Gauchos loss to the #7 Bruins places UCSB three games out of the final playoff spot with just three games to go.
“Santa Barbara had us in game one, but we came back well,” UCLA Head Coach Al Scates said. “Our outside hitters had a great night tonight, and we clinched a playoff spot, which is what we wanted.”
The Gauchos (9-15 overall, 6-13 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) managed to battle for a game one victory with a score of 31-29, but dropped the next three 21-30, 24-30, 31-33 on the Bruins’ (16-11, 11-8 MPSF) home court. This marks the tenth time in eleven games that the Gauchos have lost on the road, with their only road win coming against Pacific way back on Feb. 9.
Game one represented the epitome of a seesaw battle. With five lead changes and 19 tied scores, the two teams battled to a tie with 29 points apiece. A kill by freshman outside hitter Jeff Menzel and a combination block by freshman setter Vince Devany and junior middle blocker Matt Thobe sealed the game for the Gauchos. Despite claiming the victory in game one, the Gauchos were still out-hit .314 to .350, a sign of things to come for the Bruins.
In both games two and three the Bruins hit an astounding .500 from the floor, shadowing the Gauchos’ .161 and .302 efforts. The UCLA attack was led by junior opposite Sean O’Malley, who recorded a career high 25 kills, and sophomore outside hitter Garrett Muagututia, who had a match high 26 kills by way of a .600 hitting percentage. Senior libero Tony Ker pitched in 10 digs on the night and junior quick hitter D.J. Stromath chipped in with a match high three service aces.
“Stromath had an incredible serving night with three aces, which I know is a high for him,” Scates said. “He’s been working really hard on that all year, and he’s finally got it. Tony [Ker] had a great game tonight and he really is our MVP. He is the all time digs leader in NCAA history and he really showed it tonight with just another overall great game.”
Similar to game one, the fourth frame proved to be a nail biter, with ten tied scores and three lead changes. Back-to-back assisted blocks and a kill by freshman middle blocker Scott Slaughter gave the Gauchos a 10-7 lead early in the game. The two teams managed to battle back and forth until late in the game the Gauchos held a 29-27 advantage – with two opportunities to force a game five. Two O’Malley kills later the score was once again tied and headed into extra points. Senior middle breaker Theo Brunner knocked in one of his 14 kills for the Gauchos to reclaim the lead, but the O’Malley and Muagututia combination proved to be too much as the Gauchos lost the heartbreaker 33-31.