Carrying the momentum off their biggest victory of the season, the No. 11 UCSB men’s volleyball team concludes a four-game road trip when it faces Cal State Northridge tonight.
Splitting a pair of matches at previously ranked No. 3 BYU, the Gauchos now must take on the No. 14 Matadors, a team they have already defeated twice this season.
“I believe that we’re going to come out there thinking that there’s no way we can lose and make sure that we compete as hard as we possibly can, and put as much effort as we can into our practice,” junior outside hitter Miles Evans said. “We know we can do it, we just have to play the best that we have been. Especially coming back from BYU, we have a lot of confidence going into that match for sure.”
Saturday’s stunning comeback victory over BYU proved the Gauchos grit and ability against a top ranked foe, improving their record to 5-9 (3-7 MPSF).
Currently sitting in a three-way tie for the eighth and final playoff spot in the MPSF with Hawaii and Northridge (5-9 overall, 3-7 MPSF), this match has serious postseason implications for a surging Santa Barbara squad.
“That’s a team that we’re going to battle with for the last spot in the playoffs,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “It’s almost a must-win for us, not quite, but it’s pretty important.”
Last weekend’s trip to Utah featured the emergence of freshman outside hitter Austin Kingi, who, in his first two matches ever as a Gaucho, recorded 25 kills in two matches, helping UCSB to upset the Cougars.
“We just know we can beat [Northridge],” Kingi said. “After playing BYU, who is an even better team, this is one of the stepping stones on making our way up the ranks to be one of the top contenders and be pretty successful in the playoffs.”
Previously sweeping Northridge on Feb. 15, while also defeating them 3-1 in the UCSB/Asics Invitational on Jan. 6, the Gauchos are familiar with what it takes to defeat the Matadors, but they must now do the same on the road this time around.
“We should be confident, but at Northridge is tough; it’s always a tough place to play,” McLaughlin said. “I think we’ll be ready. I think we’ll be confident. Our guys know them pretty well. But Northridge, for sure, will be up for the challenge. They haven’t played their best against us.”
Leading the Gauchos offensively will be outside hitters Evans and freshman Kevin Donohue, who has given UCSB a formidable attack and, with the emergence of Kingi, possibly a deadly one.
“Austin played well, so he is going to be the guy in there,” McLaughlin said. “If he keeps playing like that, we’re a much better team.”
Northridge defeated UC San Diego on Friday to snap a three-game losing skid, its longest of the season. The match against UCSB kickstarts a nine-game homestand, that will last an entire month before they hit the road again.
“The fact that we swept them last time gives us a lot of confidence, and we’re basically not accepting defeat,” Evans said. “We will not believe that we are going to lose this match. We really need to play the best of our abilities and step up in this match to beat them. Every player on this team believes that we can beat them no problem.”
Tonight’s match at Northridge is set for 7 p.m. in the Matadome.