The UCSB men’s volleyball team couldn’t quite get a rhythm going Friday night, as the red-hot Gauchos fell to USC on the road 3-1 to give the Trojans a sweep of the season series.
“It hurts because we feel like we took ourselves out of the game mentally,” junior middle blocker Scott Slaughter said. “We need to work on staying consistent throughout the match.”
For much of the match, the Gauchos struggled to find a consistent attack. With the loss, #10 UCSB dropped to 10-9 overall and 7-6 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play. #7 USC improved to 9-6 and 7-5 in league play.
Santa Barbara got off to a quick start in the first set and led by as many as three points before the Trojans tied the score at 23-23. Consecutive kills by junior outside hitter Jeff Menzel gave the Gauchos a two-point cushion that they were able to ride to a 30-26 victory.
In a second set that featured 22 ties and several lead changes, it took extra points in order to decide the winner. Down 29-28 and facing defeat, UCSB battled back to tie the score at 31-31 behind two kills from junior opposite Cullen Irons. Knotted at 32-32, an ace from sophomore outside hitter Blaine Nielsen gave Santa Barbara its first chance to win the set, but the Trojans ultimately prevailed behind consecutive service aces to end the set 35-33.
“Losing that set was a huge momentum killer for us,” Slaughter said. “We had a few chances but they played some good defense and pulled it out.”
With the score tied 20-20 in the third game, Southern California would win five of the next six points to take a 25-21 lead. From there, it was all USC, as the home team fended off the Gauchos to take the set 30-24.
Determined not to go away easily, Santa Barbara gave the Trojans all they could handle in the fourth set. Unfortunately, it was not enough. Down 25-20 following a three-point Trojan run, UCSB fought back to tie the score at 27-27. The teams then traded points until the Trojans took the set, and the game, behind two consecutive Gaucho errors.
In the loss, the Gauchos were led by Slaughter, who hammered home 14 kills at a .522 hitting percentage to go with six block assists and one ace. Menzel posted his second consecutive double-double, finishing with 17 kills and 11 digs. However, the nation’s kills leader struggled offensively at times and hit at a season low .022 hitting percentage.