Nexus File Photo

46 days since their last match at Rob Gym, the UCSB men’s volleyball team finally returns home this week for two big games on the docket in hopes of breaking past the .500 barrier.

The Gauchos will host back-to-back home games as familiar opponent Pepperdine will visit this Wednesday. Then on Friday, UCSB and UC San Diego will make history by playing the first Big West Conference match since the Big West sponsored men’s volleyball in 2018.

Following its recent rut of conceding three of its past four games, Santa Barbara currently stands at 4-4 overall on the year. For the moment, this has them in last place of the Big West ‘All-Games’ league table.

Expectations still remain exuberantly high for this squad as they continue to find themselves in national rankings; they are currently No. 13 in the NCAA’s AVCA Div 1-2 Coaches’ poll, a two spot increase since the beginning of this season.

As for their opponents this week, No. 10 Pepperdine boasts a 7-3 overall record and are also sporting a three-game win streak. Unranked UC San Diego is 8-6 on the year, and before their most recent win against Lindenwood, they were managing a four-game losing streak.

Pepperdine and UCSB already played once this season, which resulted in a 3-1 road victory for the Gauchos. Meanwhile, this will be Santa Barbara’s first meeting with UC San Diego, as both teams are set to play in the first conference matchup in league history.

Junior outside hitter David Wieczorek now leads his team in the kills stat over fellow senior outside hitter Colby Harriman; Wieczorek holds a kill total of 113 with a per set ratio of 4.04, whereas Harriman has a 110 kill total and a per set ratio of 2.89.

If including their third-place teammate, senior outside hitter Alex Harthaller, this dynamic trio account for a whopping grand total of 326 kills for Pepperdine. Their impressive freshman setter Robert Mullahey still remains in the fold as Pepperdine’s primary playmaker with a total of 409 assists on the year.

For UC San Diego, there is only one clear-cut offensive mind as their kill stat leader, senior opposite Tanner Syftestad, holds an immense total of 262 and a 5.04 per set ratio.

At 6’8” and 215 lbs, Syftestad also occasionally doubles as a setter for his side. His kill total and per-set ratio stats are also league-leading as he finds himself in the respective first spots in Big West rankings. Paired with the setting talents of senior setter Milosh Stojcic, who leads his team with 542 assists, UCSB will have to plan for an opposing strategy that will surely focus on Stojcic frequently feeding the ball to Syftestad.

While UCSB will be facing top talent this week, it boasts some great talent as well. Junior outside hitter Corey Chavers became the fourth Gaucho to record 24 kills since 2009 when he tallied 24 against Pepperdine in their first meeting.  That performance went on to earn him player of the week honors.

Overall, Chavers has been solid for the ‘Chos, averaging 3.78 kills per set, which ranks fifth in the conference and 13th in the nation among qualified players.

All-time, UCSB has compiled just a 39-68 overall mark against the Waves but will look to continue to improve upon that overall following their previous win.

Against the Tritons, the Gauchos have defeated their new Big West foes 38 times of their 46 total meetings, including their wins in the last 10 matchups between the two squads.

The Gauchos will host Pepperdine this Wednesday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m. They will also host the Friday, Feb. 23, conference matchup against UC San Diego, also at 7 p.m.