Nexus File Photo

The 3-0 UC Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team will look to remain undefeated this Friday when it hosts 2-0 Purdue Fort Wayne. Purdue Fort Wayne comes in at No. 10 in the country after an impressive start to their season. The Mastodons knocked off Queens and Belmont Abbey handily in their season openers, and they will be making the long trip from Indiana to Santa Barbara for a chance at upsetting the No. 4 team in the nation, UCSB. 

The Gauchos, on the other hand, come into this match as winners of their first three games by dominant fashion. They went undefeated at the annual UCSB Invitational, racking up clean 3-0 sweeps of Concordia, Benedictine University at Mesa and McKendree University. UCSB played great and couldn’t have asked for a better start to their season. Hopefully, the Gauchos can maintain this high level of play and continue to accumulate wins like these over the course of the long season.

UCSB looked solid over the weekend’s series of games, averaging a combined 13.56 kills per set off 12.89 assists per set. Their offensive attack looked stout, picking up kills at an alarming rate, at nearly 40%. Although the entire Gaucho roster played well, two players really stood out over the course of the weekend.

In their opening game of the season, senior setter Randy DeWeese picked up 14 kills in 3 sets. After averaging just 0.51 kills per set in his first three years as a Gaucho, perhaps this is a new role that coach Rick McLaughlin has in mind for DeWeese this year. And lastly, sophomore outside hitter Ryan Wilcox came out swinging versus Benedictine University at Mesa, earning 15 kills in just three sets. This isn’t anything Gaucho fans haven’t seen before, as Wilcox proved several times last year that he is the real deal. He earned Big West Freshman of the Year honors as well as Big West Player of the Week four times for his exceptional play last season.

If UCSB wants to avoid being upset by up-and-coming Purdue Fort Wayne, they can’t underestimate their opponent’s abilities. Purdue Fort Wayne has been playing well amidst a strong schedule. Their offensive attack has been led by a freshman, Jon Diedrich, who has been playing lights out to start the season. Diedrich had an eye-opening 28 and 20 kills in his team’s first two matches. The 6-foot-6-inch outside hitter could be a potential problem for UCSB’s defense.

UCSB’s defensive anchors this year have been their seniors, with all four of the Gaucho players averaging more than one dig per set graduating this year. Spencer Fredrick (2.75 d/s), Casey McGarry (1.89 d/s), Grady Yould (1.78 d/s) and Ryan DeWeese (1.56 d/s) will need to continue to play at a high level if they want to slow down Diedrich and Purdue Fort Wayne’s explosive offense.

A road win against a highly ranked team like UCSB would be huge for the landscape of Purdue Fort Wayne’s season, whereas UCSB looks to maintain their perfect home record going into league play. It will be a close match as both of these teams have something to prove early in the season.

If you want to come out and support your Gauchos, the opening serve is this Friday Jan. 17 at 7 pm in Robertson Gym.