With a berth to the postseason on the line, the UCSB men’s volleyball team will play its final two regular season games of the year when traveling to Stanford and Pacific this weekend.
After winning two straight over Hawaii last weekend, the Gauchos kept their playoff chances alive, sitting two games behind Northridge for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs.
“As long as there is a chance, we’re going to go after it as hard as we can,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “If you’d have asked me last week, we weren’t playing good enough to beat [Stanford], but now with this momentum, we’ll give it a shot.”
UCSB faces No. 5 Stanford on Friday night in what could be a make-or-break match for the season. A loss will end the Gauchos’ hopes for a postseason berth, as they need both victories this weekend along with a loss from UCSD and two from Northridge.
“Winning these two matches [against Hawaii] will definitely give us more confidence going into the next games,” junior outside hitter Miles Evans said. “I feel like we’re really going to play our best for these next two matches and show, just like we did here that we can play volleyball.”
The Gauchos sit at 7-17 overall with a 5-15 mark in the MPSF, while Stanford is battling for home court advantage in the conference tournament with a 15-5 record in the MPSF (18-6 overall). The Cardinal currently is tied for fourth in the standings, but still hold an outside chance of locking up a number one seed.
Last weekend’s two victories snapped an eight game losing skid for the Gauchos, wins they hope will carry momentum heading up north this weekend.
“It’s huge, we had a long time there without a win,” McLaughlin said. “Anytime you can get a back-to-back win, yet alone one win, our confidence is better. ”
Saturday’s match against Pacific will be a source of redemption for the Gauchos, as UCSB previously fell 3-1 when hosting Pacific, a game which they felt they should have won.
“Pacific beat us up down here early in the season, and our guys are hungry for that match,” McLaughlin said. “We didn’t play well, and they can’t wait to get to that match.”
No. 13 Pacific stands at 7-19 on the season, and with a 4-16 mark in the MPSF have already been eliminated from postseason play. The Tigers have lost five matches in a row, a mark likely to be extended to six on Friday night when they host No. 3 UCLA.
Winning two straight on the road might be difficult for the Gauchos, as the team is 2-7 all year in opponents’ home gymnasiums.
“I don’t feel like it’s going to be any different than playing here,” Evans said. “I just feel like we’re going to have to play as a team, really keep up our team chemistry, and stay loose, aggressive and confident.”
Evans led the Gauchos in kills for both matches against Hawaii last weekend, registering a career-high 21 on Saturday. Blocking meanwhile also seemed to be a strong point for UCSB as junior middle blocker Dylan Davis dominated, tallying a combined 19 blocks in the two matches.
“Blocking is crucial for the next two matches,” Evans said.” It really helped [last week], so if we can do the same, we can really get some good results next time.”
The Gauchos’ lone senior outside hitter Blaine Nielsen will be playing in his final two matches this weekend if UCSB fails to qualify for the playoffs. N
“Finally we have some good momentum,” Nielsen said after Saturday’s win over Hawaii. “The best thing about this is these hard practices where we’ve been grinding … it’s finally paying off.”
Matches on Friday and Saturday night both start at 7 p.m. in Maples Pavilion at Stanford and the Alex G. Spanos Center at Pacific.