The UCSB men’s volleyball team was not included in the final six-team field hoping to participate in the 2016 National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship this upcoming week. The No. 5 Gauchos were the third highest ranked team vying for the two at-large spots in the tournament, behind MPSF rivals UCLA and Long Beach State.
The snub wraps up what was a solid season for Head Coach Rick McLaughlin’s team, but one that was plagued by a midseason rough patch, including two losses to UCLA and CSULB each. At the end of the season, though, the Gauchos were flying, winning six-straight matches before losing to No. 1 BYU in the semifinal of the MPSF playoffs.
The win streak included two upset wins over Stanford which help propel Santa Barbara up the national rankings as the team climbed in the AVCA Division I-II Coaches Poll for the last three weeks of the year, peaking at No. 5 — its current rank.
The BYU match marked the end of senior setter Jonah Seif’s illustrious collegiate career, and the senior saved his best season for last. He set career-best season totals with 73 kills, 35 aces, and 1159 assists. Seif’s 4332 career helpers are the fourth highest in UCSB history, and his 118 service aces rank third in the school record books.
His performances, throughout his career, were honored with various awards and all-team selections too. The four-year starter will be graduating having been recognized with three All-MPSF First Team awards and will likely be named an All-American for the third-straight year in the upcoming weeks.
Along with Seif, McLaughlin will be losing three more seniors — Austin Kingi, Ryan Hardy, and Spencer Buckley. Kingi and Hardy, starting outside hitter and middle blocker, respectively, were third and fourth on the team with 227 kills (2.47 per set) and 166 (1.68 per set). Buckley, another outside hitter, only played in three matches, but averaged 1.4 kills per set on the year.
The rest of the starting lineup, including kill-leader Matt Marsh, who averaged 3.29 kills per set as the focal point of the Gaucho offense, will return next season, which bodes well for the squad considering how some of the younger players developed towards the end of the year.
Redshirt freshman Henri Cherry had a breakout year, averaging 2.01 kills per set on a team-best .486 hitting percentage. Another surprise was the performance of sophomore Hayden Boehle, who after a late-season position change from libero to outside hitter, tallying 12 kills in two of UCSB’s last four matches.
The Gauchos finished the year with an impressive 13-2 at Rob Gym, but struggled with consistency on the road, where they were 7-8, none more painful than the season-ender in Provo.
Still, Seif and McLaughlin said all year that they wanted to make a run they could be proud of, and it’s safe to say they did just that, playing some of the best volleyball in the nation for the last month of the year, and after forcing five sets against BYU, the Gauchos fell just short of a conference championship appearance.