The UCSB men’s volleyball team played its last match of the season Friday night at Robertson Gymnasium, falling 3-0 to the third-ranked Cal State Northridge Matadors. And while a three-set sweep may not have been the ideal conclusion to the 2009 campaign, the Gauchos at least went out having fun.

Already eliminated from playoff contention, Santa Barbara (8-19, 4-18 MPSF) was playing strictly for pride against the Matadors (22-6, 15-6 in conference). The weight off of the team’s collective shoulders seemed to result in a relaxed style of volleyball rarely seen this season.

“I think that was the most fun we’ve had all season,” sophomore middle blocker Scott Slaughter said. “Everyone was relaxed… with nothing to lose out there, you can just go out and have fun.”

Senior outside hitter Mike Runkle, playing in his last game as a Gaucho with fellow fifth-year Matt Thobe, agreed with Slaughter’s assessment.

“I think the mentality was that we were going to go out there and play as hard as we could,” Runkle said. “We had fun playing.”

However, having fun was not enough to bring UCSB a victory. The Matadors dominated play for the first two sets, earning decisive 30-23 and 30-21 victories over an outmatched Santa Barbara squad. In the second set, Northridge shot at a blistering .739 attack clip, as the Gauchos had no answer for the powerful CSUN offense.

Down 2-0 with nothing on the line, many teams might have folded in the third set. UCSB, on the other hand, took it as a challenge. The Gauchos played their best volleyball in game 3, taking the Matadors to the wire before falling 30-28. Thobe notched a five-point service streak early on to give UCSB an 8-2 lead, giving the senior another fond memory of his time as a Gaucho.

“That third game he held nothing back,” Slaughter said of Thobe’s performance. “He was just bombing his serves.”

The game concluded with the Matadors taking the final two points and ending UCSB’s season on a losing note — one that feels all too familiar as the Gauchos only notched four conference wins all year long.

“We’re a little disappointed that we didn’t convert on opportunities this season,” Slaughter said.

Runkle, who has been a Gaucho since the 2005 season, put the year in some context. “I would consider this season to have been a rebuilding stage,” he said. “It was important for me and Matt [Thobe] to show the young guys what it takes to be a good team.”

“More than anything, more than personal success, it’s about what this team is going to be able to do in the future… The sky’s the limit for these guys.”