Friday night on the road against No. 4 UC Irvine, everything seemed to come together for the UCSB men’s volleyball team. In what may have been Santa Barbara’s most complete effort of the season, the Gauchos took down the Anteaters, beating the defending champs 3-1.
“This was the first time where all the pieces finally came together and fit,” junior middle blocker Scott Slaughter said.
The Gauchos improved to 2-5 overall and 2-2 in MPSF play, while Irvine dropped its record to 4-4 overall and 1-3 in the MPSF.
In the victory, the Gaucho attack was spearheaded by junior outside hitter Jeff Menzel and junior opposite Cullen Irons. Menzel recorded a game-high 27 kills and Irons locked up his second double-double of the season with 10 digs to go along with 22 kills. Junior setter Vince Devany also dished out a season-high 65 assists.
The two-headed monster of Menzel and Irons was on fire early, leading the Gauchos to a 32-30 victory in the opening set. The two combined for 12 kills as it took a 32-point effort to close out the Anteaters. With the score tied at 30-30, Slaughter blocked an Irvine kill attempt and Menzel connected on his sixth kill of the set to win the game for UCSB.
“We came out in the first with great energy and made some smart hitting choices,” Slaughter said.
The tight clash between the teams would continue in the second set, where the final score was also 32-30, this time in favor of Irvine.
In the third set, Santa Barbara showed signs of a killer instinct to close out games that had been lacking to start the season. Tied 12-12, the Gauchos ran off three straight points with the help of two UCI errors. The Gauchos led by as many as five at one point before the Anteaters battled back to take a 26-25 lead.
Senior opposite Jake Rosener connected on a hit before Slaughter added a kill and a block to complete a three-point run for the Gauchos. Once again, UCI would battle back, tying the score 28-28 before ending the game on two botched kill attempts.
“In practice we have really been working on not letting the other side go on three to four point runs, and I think that really helped us,” Slaughter said.
With a 1-3 record in matches that end in five games, the Gauchos were determined to close out the Anteaters in the fourth.
“That fourth set is when we tend to come out flat sometimes and let our opponents force a fifth [set],” Slaughter said.
Not this time. The fourth set featured another good battle, but once again the Gauchos stifled a late Anteater run. Leading by three at 27-24, Santa Barbara closed out the set emphatically when another game-ending Menzel kill gave the Gauchos their first win over Irvine since 2006.
“We will definitely be riding the energy from this win,” Slaughter said. “It’s motivating to know that we could be 4-0 if we just closed out the fifth games.”
The Gauchos are set to travel to Stanford on Thursday to take on the Cardinals in the third game of their current four-game road trip. UCSB is currently 1-1 on the trip, and will look to improve on its 2-2 MPSF record before the end of it.