This weekend’s matchups will be far from a relaxing time at the beach for the UCSB men’s volleyball team. Coming off of a week of tough losses, No. 9 UCSB prepares for a doubleheader against No. 11 Hawaii.
UCSB will enter today’s match on a two-game losing streak, currently holding an overall record of 3-2 and a conference record of 2-2. The Gauchos are tied for sixth place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation alongside Long Beach State and Cal State Northridge.
“We obviously really want to win this doubleheader,” sophomore setter Jonah Seif said. “It can give us some good momentum and hopefully lead to a string of wins.”
The Gauchos dropped a pair of matches last week, falling in straight sets to UCLA and in five to UC Irvine. The match against UCLA was their first road game of the season and it was apparent that the Gauchos were not ready for the change of environment. The game against UCI, which was at home in Rob Gym, exemplified a strong comeback performance by UCSB as Santa Barbara came back from a 0-2 start to lose 3-2.
“It would be huge for us to get the first win to start with; we are not even going to worry about the second night yet,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “That first night we have to come off our last loss and show that we are ready to play again.”
In the third set against UCI, the Gauchos rallied for a comeback by making some changes at the service line and at the net. They came out serving the ball aggressively and found their blocking rhythm in the middle. In order to be victorious against Hawaii this week, a similar level of play will need to happen, but this time it needs to be demonstrated early in the game rather than in the third or fourth set. The Gauchos have struggled with slow starts this season, with similar situations occurring in the Stanford, UCLA and UCI games.
Although UCSB’s team is well rounded this year, there are specific players that have especially stepped up in the past few games. Junior outside hitter Austin Kingi is one to watch on offense, currently leading the team with 56 kills. Kingi recorded a season high 17 kills in UCSB’s last game against UCI.
“Austin has been a huge part of our success; he has been the steadiest guy on the entire team night in and night out,” McLaughlin said.
Another key to UCSB’s success this season has been its strong presence at the service line. Seif leads the team with nine service aces, and Kingi follows close behind with eight of his own.
The Rainbow Warriors will enter today’s match riding the momentum of a three game winning streak, currently sitting at 5-2 overall and 3-1 in conference. They recently beat Long Beach State in five and swept UCSD in a two-game series.
“We’ve been watching film all week and keying on their tendencies,” Seif said. “We know they are a strong serving team so we have been getting a lot of passing reps in. We know who they like to set and have been doing drills to replicate their offense.”
Redshirt junior middle blocker Taylor Averill had a successful series against UCSD for the Rainbow Warriors. Averill had only one hitting error in both games and hit .708 while averaging 3.0 kills and 1.50 blocks per set.
“The good part about it is the first match for us is Thursday. We have had four days to prepare for one team, which is rare in our league,” McLaughlin said.
UCSB is scheduled to play Hawaii today and Friday at 7 p.m. in Rob Gym.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of January 30th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of the Daily Nexus.