Playing in their final home contest until March, the No. 15 UCSB men’s volleyball team hosts Cal State Northridge tonight in Rob Gym.
Previously defeating the Matadors 3-1 in the UCSB Asics Invitational on Jan. 6, the Gauchos will try to resume their winning ways against a Northridge team ranked No. 11 in the nation.
“We played them once in preseason and we beat them, but we’re definitely not thinking about that because we’re a completely different team, as they are too,” freshman outside hitter Kevin Donohue said. “We expect them to come out and play a tough match. They’re a really good serving team, so we’re going to have to pass well.”
Currently sitting at 3-7 overall (1-5 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation), the Gauchos struggled early in conference play but have rebounded recently, picking up their first conference victory at No. 9 Pepperdine before giving No. 1 UCLA all they could handle in a defeat.
While the record may not indicate it, this is a different and improved Gaucho squad from weeks ago, as they hope to continue to capitalize on what has helped them compete against their previous two opponents.
“We’re a team that really thrives off of intensity and players getting pumped up,” Donohue said. “When we play flat, it’s evident. We want to come out against ’Ridge ready to go, everyone fired up, playing intense, because when we’re all out there having a good time, playing fired up, that’s when we’re at our best.”
That level of intensity was evident against UCLA, as the Gauchos battled the veteran Bruins the duration of the match with a fire in their play. Helping in the cause last Friday was a raucous home crowd that cheered for Santa Barbara the entire game.
“It’s fun when the crowd gets into it; there is not so much pressure on the situation when the crowd is behind us like that,” junior middle blocker Dylan Davis said. “Every team is different, and I think with our team, energy and having fun on the court and playing loose is a major key for success out there.”
Junior outside hitter Miles Evans led the Gaucho attack against UCLA with 19 kills, one off from his career high, while Donohue and Davis aided in recording nine and six kills, respectively.
In their final home match in half a month, UC Santa Barbara will use their fan support one final time against the Matadors before hitting the road.
“That was awesome; we really had great support,” Donohue said. “When you get other sports teams and other people in the UCSB community to come out and support you, it’s definitely an advantage for us.”
Northridge comes to Santa Barbara with a 4-7 record (2-5 MPSF), splitting a pair of matches against Pacific and Stanford this past weekend. The Matadors are in search of their first road victory, however, sitting at 0-6 in opponents’ gyms on the season.
“We’re not going to change our game plan just because we’re not playing an undefeated team or a team that hasn’t been winning,” Donohue said. “The team sees this week as an opportunity to make a statement and get a couple of wins.”
The Matadors meanwhile feature a few weapons of their own in junior middle blocker Jared Moore and freshman opposite Julius Hoefer. Moore leads the entire MPSF in hitting percentage at .557, while Hoefer is 12th in the conference at 3.5 kills per set.
“Right now, they’re an amazing serving team,” Davis said. “They definitely have some heat on their serves. Our biggest focus in practice this week is handling the tough serves.”
Sitting near the bottom of the MPSF, UCSB has a chance to overtake Northridge and a number of other teams in the standings with a big week. Also facing Long Beach on Friday, the Gauchos hope to build a winning streak and vault up the MPSF standings.
“We started this year having a really tough schedule,” Donohue said. “There’s no doubt that Northridge and Long Beach are also good teams, but I think we see this week as a moving week for us. We can really capitalize on who we’re playing, and our goal is to get a win against Northridge Wednesday.”
Tonight’s match against Northridge is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.