The UCSB men’s volleyball team has a chance to make a major statement today when they travel to face No. 10 Long Beach State.
After defeating No. 11 Northridge at home in straight sets on Wednesday, the No. 15 Gauchos are in search of their second consecutive victory in conference against a 49ers team they are tied with in the MPSF standings.
“It’d be huge, not only for the standings, but for team morale to be able to stream together two wins,” freshman outside hitter Kevin Donohue said. “We haven’t done that this year and if we can get a win against Long Beach, that can be three wins out of our last four matches. We’re definitely improving and Long Beach is neck and neck with us in the standings.”
Santa Barbara currently sits at 4-7 overall with a 2-5 record in the MPSF, identical to Long Beach State’s conference record (6-6 overall). Both are in a three-way tie with Pacific for eighth place in the conference.
Long Beach, however, defeated UCLA, the No. 1 team in the nation, on Tuesday, handing the Bruins their first conference loss of the season in a tightly contested five-game match.
“They’re going to have a lot of confidence coming into that match,” junior outside hitter Miles Evans said. “I feel like they feel like they’re going to beat us. We’re going to step up and make sure we have a lot of confidence coming into that match, and taking it over.”
The 49ers are led by senior opposite Jim Baughman and sophomore outside hitter Taylor Crabb, each with over 120 kills on the season. Freshman opposite John La Rusch is one player to look out for as well, recording a career-high 21 kills in the victory over UCLA.
“I think they’re going to be real confident. Long Beach has the ability to play very, very good,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “They’re starting to do that more consistently now. It would’ve taken a heck of a match to beat UCLA, so they’re going to be ready. We’ve got to raise our level, it’s good, it’s a good test for us.”
A tough crowd appears to be waiting for the Gauchos in Long Beach given the 49ers recent victory over the No. 1 team, especially on a Friday night.
“We’ve played on the road plenty this year, so it’s not going to be unusual for us,” Donohue said. “We’re going to be ready to go despite the crowd and the home momentum they have going. For us, it’s just about focusing what’s going on, on our side of the net, playing with fire, and playing as a team so we can get that win.”
Donohue has stepped up his play recently, averaging over 12 kills in the past three matches. Combined with Donohue, Evans helps to form an emerging attacking duo for the Gauchos, averaging over 16 kills in the same period.
“They’re going to have a lot of confidence coming off a big win like that,” Donohue said. “On the flipside, you have to look at us and we’re coming off a good win against Northridge in three. We’re going to be carrying a lot of momentum into this match. It’s going to be good, because it was a big win for us [on Wednesday] and could be a big win for us [tonight]. There’s no doubt that both teams will have momentum going into the game.”
For UCSB, the game against Long Beach is the first of a four-game road trip; the Gauchos will not have another home match until March.
“Long Beach will be much tougher [than Northridge],” McLaughlin said. “They’re coming off beating the number one team in the country, they’re going to be pretty confident. But we’ve got to play better, we’ve got to beat teams like that if we’re going to win a national championship, so it’s a good test for us.”
First serve in tonight’s match is scheduled for 7 p.m. at The Pyramid.