Up 2-0 against visiting Long Beach State, the No. 11 UCSB men’s volleyball team let a hard-fought match slip away on Friday when the 49ers won three straight games to win a 3-2 match.
With a commanding lead after the first two sets, the Gauchos fell apart in the final three games, losing in five sets for the second consecutive match.
“A lot of it goes back to it being a young group and pretty inexperienced,” Assistant Coach Aaron Mansfield said. “They haven’t really figured out how to grind mentally for a long period of time. They did it for about 45 minutes in the first two games, but we just weren’t able to sustain it over a match. It’s obvious that we’re frustrated, but with this young group, hopefully we can learn from it.”
Santa Barbara (5-11 overall, 3-9 MPSF) came out of the gates on fire, capturing the first two sets 25-22, 25-20 behind a strong offensive attack from junior middle blocker Dylan Davis, who recorded 17 kills after erupting for a career-high 22 against Northridge last Wednesday.
“We’ve been trying to establish myself and the other middle [blocker] as well a lot more in these games,” Davis said. “We figured that getting us going early in the match really opens up our hitters, making it a little bit easier on us. Running us a little bit more has definitely helped getting things going.”
After taking a 2-0 lead and prepared for a seemingly easy victory, the Gauchos allowed No. 8 Long Beach (9-8 overall, 5-6 MPSF) to fight back over the rest of the match by capturing the next two sets by a count of 25-21, 25-19.
“We started to let things get away from us,” Davis said. “There was a couple of swings that just shouldn’t have been there, and I think that really threw things out of play. Everyone started to let their heads down and the fire pretty much dropped.”
Setting up a decisive fifth set, Long Beach had all of the momentum on their side, building up a 14-9 lead before UCSB battled back to make it a 14-13 game. Long Beach prevailed, however, on a kill from sophomore outside hitter Trevor Crabb to deliver the final blow in a heartbreaking loss for the Gauchos.
“That’s been a problem for us over the past couple of years,” Davis said. “It’s one of those things where this team, being as young as we are, we really haven’t been in that situation that much to where we come out fired up in the beginning of the game, where everything seems like it’s going our way, then we just can’t play.”
For UCSB, it was the second consecutive match in which they seemed to have control before losing in five games to their opponent. Wednesday’s loss against Northridge coupled with Friday’s defeat drops the Gauchos to 11th place in the conference, but still only one game back of the final playoff spot.
“It’s one of those things we’re going to have to go through using experience,” Davis said. “You can’t really train for it to close that kind of game, you just have to keep that energy and momentum going for up to five games, which is where we’re lacking right now.”
Long Beach, meanwhile, sits in seventh place in the conference, one game above eighth-place Northridge. The 49ers, coming off a loss to No. 1 UCLA, are 2-0 on the season against Santa Barbara, defeating them 3-1 at home earlier in the season.
“I think we got a little complacent in game three,” Mansfield said. “You can’t do that against a team like Long Beach. They capitalized on the opportunity. You just can’t let a team off the hook like that, and that’s a lesson we have to learn.”
UCSB plays again on Wednesday, March 7 against UC Irvine. First serve is set for 7 p.m. in Rob Gym.