As has become a trend this season, the UCSB men’s volleyball team needed five games to determine their fate Wednesday night. Unfortunately for the Gauchos, not even a career night from sophomore opposite Cullen Irons could carry them to victory. After carrying a 2-1 lead into the fourth game, Santa Barbara crumbled late and lost 30-26, 31-33, 30-26, 23-30, 8-15 to the #4 Trojans of USC.
“They [USC] just really played consistent volleyball,” Irons said. “They were able to get the sideouts at crucial points, and we kind of let up there at the end of the fourth and during the fifth [game].”
The loss came despite Irons’ 32 kills — a career best for the sophomore and a tie for the highest output of any Gaucho this season. However, Irons was quick to deflect any praise, as he pointed to his 12 attack errors to counteract his high output.
“I got 60 sets. If anyone on this team got that many sets they would do something like this,” he said. “Coach [Rick McLaughlin] just chose to go with me and I did my best with it.”
Things took a turn for the worse for UCSB midway through game four. After playing fantastic volleyball through three games to take a lead over the highly ranked Trojans, the Gauchos began to wear down. With the fourth-game score tied at 19 apiece, USC started to pull away on a series of Santa Barbara mistakes. Four attack errors in five points — including three by Irons — contributed to a 6-0 Southern California run that the Gauchos would not come back from.
Down 25-19, UCSB could only trade points with the Trojans for the remainder and ended up losing 30-23. In the decisive fifth game, USC continued to capitalize on its newfound momentum. The Trojans jumped out to a 6-1 lead, and looked poised to run away with a victory. A brief Santa Barbara comeback, buoyed by a raucous crowd cheering the home side on, narrowed the deficit to two, but the Gauchos’ good fortune would not last. The Trojans went on an 8-2 run to close the match, and UCSB found itself on the losing end of a marathon five-game match yet again.
Aside from Irons’ 32 kills, UCSB also had solid performances from junior opposite Jake Rosener and sophomore middle blocker Scott Slaughter, who had 12 and 13 kills, respectively. Irons, Rosener and junior middle blocker Sam Moisenco featured heavily on defense for Santa Barbara, notching 19 blocks between them — more than the entire USC lineup combined.
Southern California used a balanced attack, getting double-digit kills from Murphy Troy, Tony Ciarelli, Austin Zahn and Tri Bourne. Troy and Ciarelli had excellent nights in particular, gathering 37 kills combined. Bourne also featured from the service line and on defense, with three aces and four blocks.
With the loss, UCSB drops to 8-15 (4-14 MPSF), while USC improves to 16-6, and 12-5 in conference. The Gauchos’ next game is this Saturday, April 4 against Pepperdine. It will be played in Santa Barbara’s Robertson Gymnasium at 7 p.m.