Two words best describe the UCSB men’s volleyball team’s pair of victories over No. 14 Hawaii this weekend: utter dominance.
After dropping their previous eight matches, the Gauchos rebounded in a big way on Friday and Saturday night in the Thunderdome to defeat Hawaii handily and send lone senior Blaine Nielsen off in a victorious fashion.
“It feels great, especially after last night,” outside hitter Nielsen said. “These guys are tough; they gave it everything they got, and I would expect nothing less. I couldn’t be happier to play with a group of guys like that: great friends, great teammates.”
UCSB bounced back after going longer than a month without a win to improve its record to 7-17 overall (5-15 in conference). Despite the losing streak, the Gauchos still hold a possible chance to clinch the eighth and final playoff spot in the MPSF.
“They’ve been grinding away, and they keep continuing to train hard,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “They keep their heads up, and we were due to play well, and we did.”
Hawaii closed its season on an eight-game losing streak, finishing with a 7-20 record and a 4-18 mark in conference, ensuring a last place finish in the MPSF. The Warriors could never gain momentum against UCSB and were continuously flustered by an impressive Gaucho barrage of blocking.
While Hawaii captured the first set Saturday night 20-25, UCSB never seemed to flinch, resuming their dominance shown so frequently over the weekend and capturing the next three sets 25-20, 25-13, 25-21. Junior outside hitter Miles Evans put forth a career night to lead the Gauchos with 21 kills and eight digs.
“I think we just stepped up when we needed to, and playing them [Saturday] night, we knew what they were going to do or could do,” Evans said. “We played more loose and aggressive after the first game and realized that we’re the better team.”
For Nielsen, there could not have been a better ending to his home career as a Gaucho, as the senior recorded the game-winning block on Saturday night in a storybook type of ending. Overall, Nielsen had an impressive and stat-filled night with eight blocks, six kills and six digs.
“I’m glad this team has such a good group of guys that we didn’t give up on the season,” Nielsen said. “It could have been easy to do that with [an eight]-game losing streak that we were on.”
Junior middle blocker Dylan Davis put forth a dominant night as well with seven kills and 12 of the Gauchos’ 17.5 team blocks. For the match, UCSB hit .272 with standout performances from numerous players including junior setter Oliver Deutschman and his 41 assists.
Friday night’s victory was an even more dominant effort by the Gauchos as they dispatched the Warriors in straight sets to snap the eight-game losing skid. UCSB took the first two sets 25-21 and 25-13 before battling for a match-clinching 28-26 victory in the third and final set.
Closing matches has been a problem for UCSB a majority of the season, an area of emphasis for the team when placed in a similar situation against Hawaii.
“It was important that we [closed out Hawaii] because we’ve had a few matches where we’ve been up 2-0 and we let it go in five,” McLaughlin said.
UCSB next travels to Stanford on Friday, March 13. First serve is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Maples Pavillion.