Only a week away from the start of the men’s volleyball postseason, UCSB looks to wrap up the regular season with a pair of wins over No. 9 UC Irvine.

This week of play will be a true test of the Gauchos’ ability to solidify themselves as not only a top three program in the nation, but also within their own highly-competitive Big West Conference that consists of schools that all break the NCAA Top 15, excluding UC San Diego.

Currently seeded as the third place team with an even split conference record of 4-4, the only teams that currently stand higher than UCSB are No. 1 Hawai‘i and No. 2 Long Beach State, both of whom are undefeated in regular season and conference play. UC Irvine follows closely as well, coming in at the fourth seed with a 3-5 conference record.

On the season, the Gauchos boast a 17-7 overall record, just above a win percentage of .700. Considering the first of this week’s pair of matches will be away at UC Irvine, a win for the Gauchos will have UCSB’s away record all level at 5-5 on the season. Meanwhile, the Gauchos have turned the Robertson Gymnasium into a bit of a fortress, with UCSB’s home record currently standing at 11-2 on the season.

The Gauchos will look to return to their winning ways, as they’ll be coming off a most recent pair of losses to No. 1 Hawai’i, away at the big island. In their two games, UCSB only managed to snag a single set in their favor, but it was enough to snap the Rainbow Warriors’ win streak of 74 sets in a row.

As for UC Irvine, the Anteaters find themselves at a 15-10 overall for the season, meaning they have a win percentage of .600. Plenty will be at stake for both sides here, as the Anteaters are only a win behind in the conference standings, so an unfavorable reseeding is possible if the Gauchos accidentally falter.

Historically, UCSB is favored considering the all-time series between the two sides. With a 46-30 head-to-head record, the Gauchos will want to further add to it. However, UCSB split last year’s pair of matches between them and UC Irvine, with the Anteaters besting them in their last matchup with a 3-0 clean sweep before the beginning of the postseason.

Players to watch for the Gauchos include senior outside hitter Corey Chavers and freshman outside hitter Ryan Wilcox. Chavers leads his side in scoring with a total of 313 kills on the season. Wilcox, who continues his impressive rookie campaign, follows next with 214 kills to his name. With both players in the Big West top 10 for scoring, this Chavers and Wilcox combo is definitely a force to be reckoned with.

In UC Irvine’s corner, the Anteaters have a trio of attackers in senior opposite Karl Apfelbach, senior outside hitter Aaron Koubi and sophomore outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller, who are all capable of doing some damage. However, the scoring leader of the bunch, Schneidmiller, has yet to play a set since his last match against BYU back in March. With his status still in question, UCSB should game plan against the next immediate danger from Apfelbach and Koubi.

All the action begins first on the road as UCSB visits UC Irvine this Friday, April 12 at 7 p.m. Then the Gauchos will return home for their second bout against the Anteaters on the following day, Saturday, April 13 at 7 p.m. in the Robertson Gymnasium.

A version of this article appeared on p. 8 of the April 11, 2019 edition of the Daily Nexus.