For the second straight day, the UCSB men’s volleyball team proved they can hang with undefeated Long Beach State. For the second straight day, the Gauchos came up just short.
In front of a packed and raucous home crowd on Friday, Santa Barbara took the first set off of defending national champions LBSU before dropping the next three sets en-route to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the best team in the nation.
For UCSB, junior Corey Chavers and freshman Spencer Fredrick paced the team with 16 kills a piece, while junior setter Casey McGarry led the way with 44 assists on the night.
On Thursday, the No. 3 ranked Gauchos had taken the 49er’s to five sets — the first team to do so this season — with LBSU ultimately taking the decisive set 15-11.
Motivated by that near loss, Santa Barbara came out firing in the first set, racking up 24 kills on an impressive 47.6 percent kill percentage. To their credit, Long Beach hung around, matching the Gauchos point for point until the score was tied at 29. Then, UCSB’s freshman phenoms took over. First, middle blocker Brandon Hicks slammed down a spike to give Santa Barbara the lead; on the subsequent point, Fredrick spiked an over-hit pass straight down to give the Gauchos the lead.
But LBSU proved their resilience on Friday, battling back to take the second set 31-29. In large part, junior outside hitter and Team USA player TJ DeFalco dominated the set, spiking six of his 20 total kills. UCSB also made some crucial errors towards the end of the set, with Hicks missing a gamepoint serve and Fredrick committing an attack error that ultimately gave the set to LBSU.
At that point, UCSB’s fatigue seemed to set in, with the Gauchos getting hammered in the third set 25-14. After a plethora of mental errors, Santa Barbara fell behind early 11-4 and could never recover. Based in large part on subpar passing, the Gauchos could only get six kills during the entire set; excluding fifth sets, that mark would set a season low for UCSB.
During the intermission between the third and fourth set, the 1400 people in admission did all they could to motivate Santa Barbara, and the Gauchos responded in the fourth set. After a missed served by LBSU, UCSB was up 24-21 in the fourth set, needing just one point to take the top team in the nation to a fifth set for the second straight day.
After a kill by DeFalco, Long Beach setter Josh Tuaniga proved why he is one of the best players in the nation. Along with his 52 assists on the night, Tuaniga provided four straight aggressive serves that put the Gauchos under pressure. Behind his serving, LBSU went on a 4-0 run, coming all the way back to take the set 26-24 and subsequently winning the match.
All night, Santa Barbara’s unforced errors proved to be their Achilles’ heel; in that fourth set, the Gauchos missed six serves. Against a lesser opponent, UCSB could have used their raw talent to win anyways, but against the defending champions those errors ultimately proved costly.
Still, UCSB has plenty to hang their hat on. The Gauchos were able to give inarguably the best team in the nation a run for their money twice in two days, proving that UCSB can keep up with anyone in the nation. More importantly, a youthful Santa Barbara team was able to get crucial experience against an elite opponent — something that should help the Gauchos tremendously moving forward.
UCSB will have next week off, before taking on Cal State Northridge at home on March 29.