Last night featured all the drama and excitement that was expected in a postseason quarterfinals, where the Gauchos took on the Matadors for a semifinal spot in the Big West Men’s Volleyball Championship.
Ultimately, UCSB would be the ones to come out on top of it all, with a 3-2 victory, after five thrilling sets of volleyball. They’re moving on to a semifinal matchup against Long Beach State, while CSUN’s season is now concluded following their elimination.
Key players for the Gauchos in this one were freshman outside hitter Ryan Wilcox and junior opposite Keenan Sanders. Wilcox finished with a team high 15 kills on a kill percentage of .419; the team collectively finished with a hitting percentage of .398 as well. Keenan Sanders was expected to play an impact role in this matchup. Along with 12 total kills to his name, Sanders also finished with a game-high 12 blocks against the Matadors. Going forward, both players are sure to keep producing for their side as the Gauchos will face their toughest challenge in their semifinal matchup against Long Beach State.
The first set began in a closely fought fashion. By the score mark of 10-10, there had already been 8 different instances where the teams had brought the scores back to level. Soon after, the Gauchos started to slowly chip away at this and break free for a small lead of their own. Off a setup by Wilcox, junior setter Randy DeWeese earned a kill that would bring UCSB’s lead to 5, at 15-20. The Matadors would only go on to manage a single other point before the set was closed out and the Gauchos had earned a 1-0 start with a final set score of 25-16.
CSUN would go on to bring that initial intensity back as the second set proved even closer than the first. With leads never surpassing more than two points at any moment in this set, the Gauchos found themselves constantly trailing without being able to find a rhythm of their own. It wasn’t until DeWeese assisted a kill by Wilcox late in the set that the Gauchos manage to bring things all level at 18-18. Still, the lead continued to evade UCSB but they managed to tie the match up four more times through the remainder of the set. Ultimately, the Matadors managed to close out this one as the final set score came in at 27-25 and the set tally on the night stood at 1-1.
The third set similarly followed the nail biting trend, as it once again took extra points to decide the set victor. The Matadors looked to build off the momentum from the previous set, and once more it was the Gauchos who were trailing for the majority of it. It wasn’t until the 17-17 mark that UCSB found its first tie of the set, off a kill by Spencer Fredrick set up by DeWeese. The Gauchos would go on to earn a slight 2-point lead deep into the third set, but unfortunately they couldn’t get the job done in the final moments as the Matadors snatched this one at 28-26.
Now in a make or break set, the Gauchos started the fourth set in inspired form as they raced out to a 15-6 lead following excellent offensive play and several mistakes on CSUN’s end. As the set progressed UCSB’s lead did as well, Sanders and senior outside hitter Corey Chavers lead their side to a 25-13 set victor, a performance worthy of a top-4 program.
With the set tally all even at 2-2, a fifth set was needed to decide this quarterfinals matchup, and the Gauchos were up to the task once more. Again, UCSB raced out to another massive early lead, and another Spencer kill assisted by DeWeese brought the score to 11-3. At this point it was far too late for the Matadors to salvage their season. However, at game point, CSUN found a second-wind of four scores in a row that brought the tally to 14-9. Nevertheless, the Gauchos got the job done at 15-9, earning themselves a 3-2 matchup win that advances them to the Big West Semifinals.
Next up for No. 4 UCSB is a meeting with the best in the nation, No. 1 Long Beach State. This semifinal bout will be the Gauchos’ biggest challenge of the season yet, with both teams hungry for a playoff finals spot, this one’s shaping up to be another stellar opportunity for elite college volleyball.
UCSB and Long Beach State are set to duke it out tonight, April 19th, at 8 PM, in the tournament location of Honolulu, Hawai’i.