USC was simply too tough for the Gauchos to handle Friday night, as the UCSB men’s volleyball team lost to the second place Trojans at home. Santa Barbara fought back from a 2-1 deficit but couldn’t complete the comeback, falling to the Trojans 3-2.

“It’s disappointing any time you feel you can win a game that you lose,” junior middle blocker Scott Slaughter said.

The Gauchos fell to 4-7 overall and 4-4 MPSF, good for ninth place in the league. With the victory, the Trojans attained sole possession of second place with a record of 7-3 overall and 5-2 MPSF. UCSB is now 1-6 at home in MPSF play and 3-1 on the road.

“Our crowd was amazing [Friday night] though; definitely the best crowd I have ever seen here. The fans came up big and played a huge part, it’s a shame we couldn’t get the win,” Slaughter said.

Junior outside hitter Jeff Menzel led the Gauchos with 29 kills, also adding three aces and six digs. Slaughter, who has improved by leaps and bounds since rejoining the team after a preseason hand injury, swung at a .619 percentage, posting 14 kills with only one error. Junior opposite Cullen Irons added 17 kills and eight digs while junior setter Vince Devany dished out a match-high 61 assists.

USC would strike first, taking the first set from the Gauchos, 30-27. Santa Barbara answered in the second, returning the favor to the Trojans, 30-22. Leading by nine at 21-12, Santa Barbara would forfeit three consecutive points to Southern Cal, forcing a Gaucho timeout. Regrouped, Santa Barbara came out strong after the timeout and ended the game 30-22.

Down 10-8 in the third set, the Gauchos seemed prime to battle through a tough set before a 4-0 Trojan run left Santa Barbara down five points mid-set. The Gauchos, behind an ace and kill from Menzel, would battle back to bring the score to within one, at 20-19, but the Trojans were again one step ahead. Another USC run left the Gauchos down 25-20. This time, the Gauchos could not battle back from the deficit, falling to the Trojans 30-24. “The runs we give up are due to our inconsistencies with passing and serving,” Menzel said. “Missing serves and bad passing allow other teams to swing the momentum in their favor.”

In the fourth set, UCSB fought to survive against the Trojans. Tied 19-19, the Gauchos would force a USC timeout behind a Trojan service error and a service ace from senior middle blocker Sam Moisenco. Up 23-22, two consecutive Menzel kills would force another USC timeout. Eventually, the Gauchos would persevere 30-26 behind a late three-point run emphatically capped off with a Menzel service ace.

The Gauchos got off to a good start in game five with consecutive kills from Slaughter and Menzel. However, a run of five consecutive points from the Trojans left the Gauchos on the wrong side of a 7-3 score. UCSB would battle back to within one at 8-7 but couldn’t overcome separate three-point runs by USC, eventually falling 10-15.

“Game fives are all about consistency, and whatever team can keep their cool and make as little errors as possible will probably win,” Menzel said.
Unfortunately, that team has not been Santa Barbara very much this season.
The fifth set has haunted UCSB so far, as the Gauchos are now 1-6 in MPSF matches that have been decided in five games.

“We have a tendency to hold back in game five,” Slaughter said. “We have to stay consistent and leave it all on the court.”

UCSB will have all week to practice in order to prepare for its second road trip of the year, which features visits to Long Beach State and UC San Diego. The Gauchos will play Long Beach on Friday before heading south to meet San Diego on Saturday.