Playing in its second game of a six-game road trip, the No. 15 UCSB men’s volleyball team isn’t getting any breaks from its schedule. After losing to top ranked BYU in their previous game, the Gauchos will have a shot at redemption tonight as they face defending national champions No. 1 UC Irvine.
Having been swept by the Anteaters earlier in the season, the Gauchos understand that execution in late game situations will be critical for them to pull out a win this time around.
“It really came down to one or two plays in the later part of each game that decided that one,” freshman setter Jonah Seif said. “We know they’re beatable, they lost games this year. They won the championship last year but I think if we play as well as we can, we can definitely sweep them also.”
Santa Barbara comes into tonight’s match with a 5-8 overall record and is 3-6 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, but has strung together good performances in recent games and will provide UCI with a serious challenge despite last week’s loss.
“The loss wasn’t too detrimental to our attitude and our mood because we really played well, we just didn’t close out the match,” senior outside hitter Miles Evans said. “We’re playing Irvine with a lot of confidence, believing we can take it to them and really beat them.”
However, Irvine enters as the hottest team in the league and is currently in a six-game winning streak. Currently in second place in the MPSF, the Anteaters are 10-3 overall and 7-3 in the conference, only losing once at home this season.
As Irvine is led by All-American senior outside hitter Kevin Tillie, containing the Frenchman will be essential for UCSB to defeat the Anteaters. Ranking 10th in the conference in hitting percentage (.368) and sixth in kills per set (4.00), Tillie had a monster game in the previous match versus Santa Barbara, notching 18 kills with a hitting percentage of .485.
“Tillie is definitely going to have his plays, we’re not going to be able to shut him down completely,” Seif said. “But definitely if we contain him, it puts a lot of pressure on the other players on their team to come up big.”
Santa Barbara is coming off its best offensive display against BYU. In that game, four Gauchos had double-digit kills, including Evans, whose 21 kills matched a career high. UCSB will need a repeat offensive performance to offset the UCI defense. Nevertheless, defense will still be the primary focus in stopping Irvine.
“Our block is going to be really important,” Evans said. “Their best player was tipping balls and that’s what we want them to do and we need to pick those up. Now that we know that they do that, we’re ready for it.”
Thursday’s match is scheduled for 7 p.m.