The UCSB men’s volleyball team will play #2 Cal State Northridge (5-0 overall) at 7 p.m at the Matadome on Friday, giving the #10 Gauchos (2-3 overall) a chance to avenge their 30-38, 30-23, 28-30, 30-21 loss to the Matadors in the Elephant Bar Invitational at Robertson Gymnasium on Jan. 9.
“[The match] is important in the sense that we have to see how we’re improving,” Gaucho Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “They’re a familiar opponent, ranked two in the country, which gives us a good gauge of what we need to do to get to that level.”
UCSB has lost two straight matches, most recently to #8 UCLA in a 33-31, 30-28, 30-28 sweep in Westwood on Jan. 16. Meanwhile, CSUN has won all of their matches on the road, giving the team its first 5-0 start since 1985.
The Matadors are led by senior AVCA All-American outside hitter Eric Vance, who earned AVCA National Player of the Week honors last week after hitting a season high of 25 kills in a four-set win over #5 UC Irvine and 18 kills and 10 digs in a sweep over UCLA. Vance averages 5.42 kills per set, hitting 103 so far this season on 220 attacks and 27 errors for a .345 hitting percentage – well above the team’s cumulative average of .290. He had 19 kills and hit .350 in the Matadors’ last meeting with the Gauchos.
“The best way to try to contain a player like Vance is to get the team in a bad passing rhythm,” McLaughlin said. “Any hitter will have a tough time if the offense isn’t passing well. To do that, we need to serve well. … If we can do that, we have a shot.”
Gaucho sophomore outside hitter Jeff Menzel leads the team with 6.17 kills per set, with 111 total for the season on 226 attacks and 53 errors for a .257 hitting percentage. He posted a team high of 24 kills on a .419 percentage against UCLA. However, he hit five service errors in the match and eight in a 3-1 loss to #5 UC Irvine on Jan. 14. Although the Gauchos have served .816 on the season, compared to the Matadors’ .795, the team hit 21 against UCLA and 22 against Irvine, compared to 16 and 15, respectively.
“Against UCLA, we improved in a lot of different categories,” McLaughlin said. “But the one thing we need to improve is our serving. The serving is one part of our game that hasn’t improved to where we wanted it to be at this point of the season.”
Menzel also holds the team’s second most digs, with 25 for the season and 1.39 per set. Senior Mike Runkle is first, hitting 2.5 per set. Junior opposite Jake Rosener is the team’s second-leading attacker, hitting 3.06 per set. Sophomore setter Vince Devany leads the team in assists, with 13.06 per set and a .465 assist percentage.
“We’ve been working really hard,” McLaughlin said. “And we played tough against [CSUN] last time. We think we can be competitive against them.”