It was déjà vu all over again for the #13 UCSB men’s volleyball team (4-9 overall, 2-8 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) on Saturday. After convincingly taking sets two and three from a favored #7 Stanford (9-7, 5-6) squad, the Gauchos put up their best effort only to watch a resilient opposition come roaring back to snatch the final two sets in a comeback victory. It was an all too familiar sight for a very talented UCSB team that has struggled closing games, with five of their last seven matches going the distance, only one of which resulted in a win.
“There’s no question that we should’ve won last night,” sophomore middle blocker Scott Slaughter said. “After coming out strong in second in third [sets], we let up a little bit in the fourth, and after holding two big leads in the fifth their [Stanford’s] setter started unloading and really took our offense out of it.”
The Gaucho offense was looking great in its match only one night prior to the Cardinal letdown, as they took down an overmatched Pacific team in front of the home crowd at Rob Gym in straight sets. Though playing a team still searching for their first conference win made it easy for UCSB to sweep their way to victory, the quick win was owed in large part to the fact that Santa Barbara distributed the ball very evenly.
“Pacific not serving tough made it easy to pass, which helped us out offensively by getting everybody involved,” Slaughter said.
Slaughter led the way with 12 kills while hitting at a .625 attack percentage to further solidify his spot atop the national leaders in that category. Sophomore outside Jeff Menzel, the UCSB superstar that surpasses 20 kills on a given night, joined Slaughter in double digits with 11 on a night where everybody got in on the action.
“The key was to go in and focus on executing on our side, and we did that,” Slaughter said.
Though focus and execution was hardly lacking against Stanford as shown through several career nights, including a career-best 78 assists for sophomore setter Vince DeVany, the Gauchos take yet another lesson learned by way of painful defeat. Hopefully, UCSB can make these growing pains equate to wins as they try to make a playoff push entering the second half of the season.
“Everything we’ve done in all these close losses shows we’re getting better,” Slaughter said. “The season’s definitely not over yet … Don’t count us out of playoffs because we haven’t hit our stride just yet. We have our confidence, and once all these little things get figured out we should be able to get it going.”