The No. 5 UCSB men’s volleyball team will hit the road today for a weekend of matches against No. 9 Stanford and Pacific.
After last week’s impressive 3-0 performance against nationally ranked Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State (3-1) the Gauchos hold an overall record of 8-3. They are currently ranked in third place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation alongside the University of Hawaii and Pepperdine with a conference record of 7-3.
“I think that for one thing this year a lot of guys, including myself, are just more comfortable and more confident,” junior middle blocker Jake Staahl said. “We know that we have the confidence necessary to know that we can make the right plays and pull it together to beat other teams that in years past we would have let come back to beat us in five sets.”
First up on their weekend agenda, the Gauchos will face Stanford on Friday night. The Cardinal currently hold an overall record of 8-5 and 5-5 in the MPSF. Of the games they have played this season, much of their success has been at home. They currently hold a strong record of 5-2 at Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto, CA.
“Stanford is a tough place to play at. Their crowd is always loud and their student section is always rowdy,” senior middle blocker Ryan Thompson said. “It’s a fun place to play at, yet it’s really tough to get a win there.”
When the Gauchos met the Cardinal earlier this season they were victorious in a 3-2 game. During that match, UCSB was led on offense by junior outside hitter Austin Kingi with 15 kills. Kingi continues to dominate offensively and is leading the Gauchos in kills overall for the season.
Senior outside hitter Steven Irvin is currently leading Stanford on offense. Irvin has 176 kills on the season and is ranked third in the NCAA in aces per set.
“A win against Stanford would be huge for us, especially after beating them at home already,” Thompson said. “Stanford is a very good team and a win at their place would be phenomenal.”
After Friday’s match the Gauchos will travel to Stockton to face the Pacific Tigers. The Tigers are struggling all around this season. They currently hold an overall record of 2-11 and 1-9 in the MPSF. Earlier this season when the Gauchos faced Pacific, they swept the Tigers in three sets.
UCSB’s offense will be matched up against Pacific’s junior middle blocker Tommy Carmody. Carmody is currently leading the Tigers with 74 blocks on the season.
“As a team we are really starting to realize our potential and we keep getting better every day,” Staahl said. “Again, I think it just comes back to our confidence. I mean, I think of our team as one of the strongest in the MPSF and the country.”
The Gauchos head into Friday night’s game with momentum on their side, entering Stanford on a three-game win streak. Stanford’s four-game streak was broken last weekend with a loss to BYU.
“The only thing we have to do is maintain the same mindset heading into these away matches,” assistant coach Cullen Irons said. “We are not going to have the same crowd support we have had the past few weeks here, so we are going to have to be able to adjust to these away crowds.”
Friday’s game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start time in Palo Alto and will be aired on the Pac-12 network. Saturday’s game against Pacific is also scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of February 20, 2014’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.