Facing one of the top teams in the nation, the No. 12 UCSB men’s volleyball team fell in straight sets to UC Irvine Wednesday night in Rob Gym for their third consecutive loss.
In their last match of the year at Rob Gym, the Gauchos fell behind Irvine early and could never recover, often switching their lineup to find the perfect fit.
“[Irvine was] serving pretty tough,” freshman outside hitter Austin Kingi said. “We’ve been working in practice on passing some hard serves, and I don’t know, we just didn’t pick it up in the first two games.”
No. 2 Irvine took a quick 5-0 lead to start the match, forcing Santa Barbara (5-12 overall, 3-10 MPSF) into a much-needed timeout. The extra time to plan was for not however, as the Anteaters continued their dominance in the first game, ultimately winning 25-13.
Things did not improve from there for the Gauchos in the second set, as Irvine (15-3 overall, 11-3 MPSF) once again jumped out to a fast start, leading 8-2. Featuring a different lineup to find some energy was to no avail, as UCSB fell 25-15 in the second game.
Kingi said a few flaws were exposed by the first two games, and there was work needed to be done.
“Well first of all, our rhythm and passing, and kind of our team chemistry [needs to improve],” Kingi said. “Right now we’re switching it up so much, we’ve just got to find a set group that can do the job for us.”
Down 2-0, and looking unimpressive in both games up until that point, the Gauchos once again switched their lineup. Unlike the previous attempts, this change proved beneficial, as UCSB battled Irvine, never falling out of striking distance in the set.
Although much improved in the third set, the Gauchos ultimately fell 25-22, their first time being swept since a Feb. 1 contest at USC.
“We played more as a team and just brought up our level of confidence, and really tried to battle against the other team,” junior outside hitter Miles Evans said. “We just said no mercy, we’re not going to let this team take over at home, and just step up. If we lose the last play, the next play, go on.”
Overall, UCSB used 13 different players in an attempt to figure out the Anteaters. Junior middle blocker Dylan Davis, who registered five kills, was the only Gaucho player to appear in all three games.
Leading the Gauchos in kills was freshman opposite Matt Marsh with seven, while Evans recorded a second-best five. Kingi led all Gauchos with five digs, while his older brother in sophomore libero Chad recorded three.
“That third game, switching everything up, made a big change for us,” Austin Kingi said.
Despite the loss, UCSB remains in contention for the final playoff spot, currently sitting a game and a half behind in the standings.
Irvine meanwhile, sits near the top of the conference in second place and has now won six consecutive matches. Junior outside hitter Kevin Tillie led all players with 11 kills, while sophomore middle blocker Scott Kevorken registered 10 for the Anteaters.
“We knew we needed to show some fire, play as a team, and battle their serves,” Evans said in the Gauchos’ response in the third game. “[We wanted to] just play the best that we can.”
UCSB continues play on Friday, March 9 when they host UC San Diego. First serve is set for 7 p.m. in the Thunderdome.