This Saturday is destined to be the ultimate blue and gold showdown. The No. 5 UCSB men’s volleyball team will host No. 9 UCLA in the first round of MPSF playoffs Saturday night at Rob Gym.

The Gauchos wrapped up their regular season play on a high note last week, defeating No. 3 BYU in a four-set match. UCSB ends its season in the top half of the playoff bracket, ranked fourth in the MPSF with an overall record of 17-8 and a conference record of 16-8.

“If we can play like we did against BYU, we have a good shot against anyone,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said.

Coincidentally just one night after UCSB defeated BYU, UCLA hosted the Cougars at Pauley Pavilion and took them down in a four-set game. This win bumped the Bruins up a place in the MPSF standings, allowing them to swap places with UC Irvine for the fifth place finish. UCLA closed out its season with a conference record of 15-9, just one game separating them from UCSB.

After last week’s overwhelming attendance at UCSB’s senior game, the Gauchos are sure to have the crowd working to their advantage in Saturday night’s matchup. Building from the momentum of having home court advantage, UCSB will also need to demonstrate strong, consistent serving and passing in order to maintain an edge over the Bruins.

“UCLA is a good team, I think we match up well with them and it’s going to come down to us winning the serve and pass,” senior middle blocker Ryan Thompson said.

In last week’s game, sophomore setter Jonah Seif and senior opposite Evan Licht both delivered from the service line. Seif and Licht were each responsible for three services aces, contributing to UCSB’s eight total. Licht also helped the offensive rhythm in terms of passing. He finished the night with a double-double, recording 10 digs and 10 kills.

Looking forward, the Gauchos seem to be less concerned with their opponent, but more focused on maintaining their own level of play.

“We are going to play our game, it doesn’t matter who is across the net,” Licht said. “If we serve and pass the ball like we did against BYU, we are going to be hard to beat.”

Shifting the attention to the Bruins, UCLA will enter Santa Barbara with a three-game win streak fueling its momentum. Players to watch out for are senior outside hitters Gonzalo Quiroga and Robart Page. Both players are leading UCLA’s offensive attack, recording over 350 kills apiece on the season.

Looking back at the Gaucho and Bruin series for the 2014 season, both teams are even with one win each.

“It’s going to take what we just did against BYU,” junior outside hitter Weston Nielsen said. “Taking care of our side of the net and hitting our serve well. We can beat anyone and we know that.”

UCSB hosts the MPSF tournament quarterfinals this Saturday at 7 p.m. in Rob Gym.


A version of this article appeared on pages 1 and 6 of April 17, 2014’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.

Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.