Over Spring Break, the #6 UCSB men’s volleyball team got a chance to play against nationally ranked teams outside the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation for the first time this season. Losing two out of their three matches over the break, the team must now focus on the home stretch of conference play before the playoffs, starting with a home game versus UC San Diego tonight at Robertson Gymnasium.

After losing to #10 Penn State 3-1, the Gauchos bounced back to defeat Lewis University 3-0 in the Long Beach State Active Ankle Tournament. However, after sitting starters in favor of fresh legs off the bench, UCSB dropped its last match of the break to California Baptist in straight sets. Eleven players entered the match for the Gauchos — the most Head Coach Rick McLaughlin has used all year.

“A lot of those substitutes deserve time. Non-league matches give us an opportunity to get the younger guys some experience,” McLaughlin said. “Most importantly, we need to continue to improve. We need to be ready to play our best volleyball. We’re close, but we can play better. We would love to finish in the top four in the MPSF and secure a home playoff match, but we need to play well in the next couple of weeks to do that.”

UCSB (12-10 overall, 9-7 MPSF) now begins the last stretch of conference matches before playoffs. Tied for fifth place with UC Irvine in the MPSF standings, the Gauchos must continue to win in order to remain among the top eight teams that qualify for the post-season. UCSB hosts UC San Diego (8-16 overall, 4-13 MPSF) tonight in the first of six remaining regular season matches.

“We need to leave everything on the court from this point out,” senior outside hitter Cullen Irons said. “The playoffs depend on what happens these next six games. We can’t take any team lightly. UCSD is a pretty good serving team. They have a couple of solid middle blockers too. No off nights from here on out.”

The Tritons lost their last match in straight sets to No. 7 UCLA last weekend, but the Tritons upset #3 Ohio State 3-1 on March 24, snapping the Buckeyes’ 17-match win streak. Last time UCSB and UCSD squared off, the Gauchos defeated the Tritons 3-0 in San Diego in the 2011 regular season opener.

“We feel good to be playing under some pressure again,” senior outside hitter Jeff Menzel said. “We’ve missed that feeling, and now that the playoffs are near we can get back into a competitive mindset. UCSD has a fast offense so we need to stay disciplined and keep errors down.”

Tonight’s game is set to begin at 7 p.m.