The American Volleyball Coaches Association released the results of their preseason poll on Wednesday afternoon, placing the Gauchos at No. 14 on their list. The Gauchos premiered at a similar spot last season, No. 10, before they ascended as high as No. 2 en route to the National Championship Match.
Six conference rivals in BYU, UC Irvine, UCLA, Stanford, USC, and Long Beach State take up the top six spots in the poll. Defending national champions Ohio State, though ranked eighth, were the only team outside the MPSF to garner a first place vote.
Following the unveiling of the rankings, the Gauchos proceeded to host the University of Manitoba Bisons in an exhibition match at Rob Gym. The match was the last of the season before the beginning of the regular season on Friday. Despite leading by two sets at one points, UCSB ultimately fell to their Canadian opponents in a five set marathon. Game scores for the match were 21-25, 20-25, 25-22, 27-25, 15-9.
The first game started off well enough for the Gauchos, who were led by the sole senior member of the squad, outside hitter Blaine Nielsen. Nielsen led all attackers in the set with five kills on just six attacks, representing his best set, statistically, of the night. Nielsen would finish with 11 kills and 12 digs, the only Gaucho to record a double-double on the night. Junior middle blocker Dylan Davis would add on four of his 11 kills and two of his match-high eight blocks to propel the Gauchos to a 1-0 lead.
UCSB continued to roll until Manitoba's Dane Pischke caught fire in the third set. Pischke, the son of of Manitoba coach Garth Pischke, recorded seven of his match-high 19 kills in the third frame, leading his team to a set victory and wresting the momentum from the Gauchos.
With the score tied 23-23 in the fourth frame, the Bisons were awarded a point when the Gauchos were deemed to be out of rotation, a point that would prove to be pivotal. Manitoba captured the fourth game, and parlayed that momentum into a relatively swift fifth game victory.
Despite the loss, there were some encouraging performances from the UCSB side. Sophomore middle blocker Evan Licht led the Gauchos with 13 kills, and also added eight digs. Sophomore middle blocker Ryan Thompson picked up five kills, despite seeing limited action. Junior setter Oliver Deutschman was solid all night, picking up 54 assists and being a solid floor general.
UCSB Head Coach Rick McLaughlin discussed the loss post-match: "We had good and bad moments throughout the match. Our first two games were definitely our best, but Manitoba improved as the match went on, and we increased our errors. They definitely played the bigger points better."
Though Pischke was the star for Manitoba, Joe Brookes (seven blocks) and Derek Nieroda (13 digs) had big nights as well. As a team, the Bisons outserved the Gauchos to the tune of a 5-2 advantage in serves aces and recording four less service errors (22 to UCSB's 26) throughout the match.
The regular season begins for the Gauchos on Friday, when they host the eight-team UCSB/asics Invitational Tournament. Information regarding the tournament can be found in this release.
And remember, there is still time to make your year-end, tax-deductible donation to the Gaucho Fund by clicking here. Choose the sport of your choice and make a significant difference in the life of a deserving student-athlete.