Gaucho sophomore outside hitter Jeff Menzel posted a match high in kills with 24 on a season high .419 attack percentage, but #8 UCLA (2-3 overall, 1-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) held down the home court, blanking #9 Santa Barbara (2-3, 0-2 in the MPSF), in straight sets at Pauley Pavilion on Friday. Much like their first conference match with #5 UC Irvine, service errors played a key role in the Gauchos’ demise. UCSB’s 21 giveaways were especially costly as every set went down to the wire.
“I feel like we could have won every set, but a couple errors we made late ended up being the difference,” sophomore libero Andy McGuire said.
Coming out of a timeout down 27-24 in the opening set, an inspired Gaucho lineup came storming back to tie the game at 28 and even had a 31-30 lead following one of Menzel’s ferocious kills. Unfortunately for UCSB, one of Menzel’s six attack errors spelled the end of set number one as the Bruins wrapped things up 33-31.
“Our best chance of winning [a set] was definitely in the first set,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “They [UCLA] didn’t give us too many chances, but when they did in we didn’t make the most of them.”
Menzel made the most of his opportunities in the second set, recording four kills amid a 10-6 run to bring the Gauchos back into set contention at 29-28 before the Bruins finished things off 30-28 by taking down the final point. UCSB made yet another Menzel-led rally late in the third set but came out on the short end of an identical 30-28 final score.
“Jeff is learning a new position this season, and is getting better with each game he plays,” McLaughlin said.
Though being swept on the road was definitely not what Santa Barbara was hoping for, there were still several positives to be taken from the match. The development of the Gauchos’ young players was apparent as they led in blocks, digs, and attack percentage.
“We improved in a few [statistical] categories, and I thought both of our middles blocked extremely well,” McLaughlin said. “Bottom line, we’ve got to get better at turning opportunities into points.”
The Gauchos will have plenty of time to work out the kinks, as they have a week-long layoff before hitting the road to #2 Cal State Northridge. The Matadors defeated Santa Barbara earlier this season in the Elephant Bar Invitational played at UCSB.
“We are definitely going to work on a lot of serving and passing this week,” McGuire said. “We can’t expect to win if we give up so many points on the serve.”