With the weekend’s Big West Championship all wrapped up, so is the men’s volleyball season following No. 4 UCSB’s semifinal exit after falling to No. 2 Long Beach State in four sets.
This was the third meeting between the two sides this year, and ultimately for the third time, the victory would go to the defending champion 49ers. As a result, UCSB’s postseason aspirations have now come to an end in the Big West Semis; Long Beach State would go on to become conference championship runner-ups after falling to No. 1 Hawai’i in five sets.
For the Gauchos, red shirt junior middle blocker Brandon Hopper and senior outside hitter Corey Chavers were the key contributors in this semifinal matchup; these two players were the only double-digit scorers for UCSB. Hopper finished with a team-high kill percentage of .533, tallying 10 kills to his name on the evening. Meanwhile, Chavers was once again a productive force as he finished with a team-high final kill count of 13; he also tallied a team-high 2 service aces.
Friday evening’s semifinal got off to an exciting start as both sides were clawing back and forth for a first set lead. The score was brought all level, at the 10-10 mark, off a Chavers kill set up by junior setter Randy DeWeese; prior to this, the set was tied twice with Long Beach State’s lead never surpassing more than 3 scores. Following this, the 49ers would go on to scrape back their three-point lead. However, following a UCSB timeout, the Gauchos would find a scoring streak of their own and bring it back all level once more at 15-15. Unfortunately, a 49er timeout of their own seemingly corrected their mistakes and Long Beach State slowly began to run away with the set shortly after. The set would eventually go to the defending champs at 25-19 as Long Beach State started off the evening semifinal at a set score of 1-0.
The second set went much more in UCSB’s favor, as the Gauchos quickly jumped out to a 6-3 lead. Still, in a set riddled with attacking and service errors, Long Beach State would still manage to tie it back up at 11-11. Thanks to DeWeese assists and the offensive efforts of Hopper, the Gauchos would manage to regain their several point lead. A set-ending kill by Gaucho freshman outside hitter Ryan Wilcox would then earn UCSB its first and only victory at 25-21, thus bringing the set tally level at 1-1.
The previous set’s result must have refocused the 49ers as they found their intensity once more in the third. The Gauchos’ had a short-lived lead to start the third set, but following the tied score, at 5-5, Long Beach State would go on to maintain a several point lead throughout the remainder of the set. UCSB couldn’t find their rhythm and escape that catch-up mode, as the third set was dropped to the 49ers by a score of 25-18.
Now in the fourth set, the Gauchos put on a make or break performance. UCSB once again came out with the early lead, but errors on their behalf kept Long Beach State in the set. Lead by the 49ers’ senior opposite/outside hitter Kyle Ensing, who finished with a game-high 18 kills, and senior setter Josh Tuaniga, Long Beach State asserted their dominance as a top-2 program and again ran away with it late in the set. Eventually, the set and matchup would conclude at 25-17 as the semifinal went 3-1 to the 49ers.
Following this semifinal exit, the Gauchos were hoping for an NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championship bid to keep their postseason alive. Unfortunately, only Hawai’i, Long Beach State, Pepperdine, USC, Lewis, Princeton, and Barton were called upon.
Long Beach State would go on to lose 3-2 to Hawai’i in the Big West Men’s Championship game.
With the season now wrapped up, UCSB managed a finish as a top-5 program in the nation. On the season, the Gauchos finished with an 18-10 overall record and a 4-5 conference record in the Big West.