Gauchos Bested by Top-Ranked UCLA

Weston Nielsen (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Weston Nielsen (Photo by Tony Mastres)

Despite a valiant effort, the Gauchos were felled by the top-ranked team in the nation in UCLA on Friday night by a score of 3-1 (25-17, 25-18, 22-25, 25-20). With the loss, UCSB fell to 3-7 overall, and 1-5 in conference matches. With the win, the Bruins extended their current winning streak to 10 matches. Their overall record improved to 12-1, while their unbeaten 7-0 conference record places them at the top of the MPSF standings.

A season-high 615 fans came out to watch the Gauchos on Friday night, their highest home attendance mark since facing UCLA on Jan. 7, 2011. Before the match, UCLA Head Coach Al Scates was honored. Scates, who will retire at the end of this season, is currently in his 50th season at the helm of UCLA Volleyball, having won an unprecedented 19 NCAA championships during his tenure.

The Gauchos were led by none other than junior outside hitter Miles Evans, whose 19 kills were just one off from his career high of 20. Freshman outside hitter Kevin Donohue also turned in a strong effort, finishing second on the team in kills (nine) and digs (eight). Sophomore libero Chad Kingi led the Gauchos with nine digs, and was only bested by Evan Mottram- an ex-Gaucho and current UCLA libero, who collected 15. 

For the match, UCSB picked up just seven service errors and finished with a .914 serving percentage, both season-bests.

The first game, despite an eight point difference between the teams in the end, was likely the most contentious game of the match, featuring 11 ties and six lead changes throughout. With the teams virtually deadlocked through the first half of the game, a pair of back-to-back kills and a block, all from from UCLA's Thomas Amberg, gave the Bruins a lead that they would not relinquish.The Gauchos did not record a block as a team and allowed UCLA a .536 hitting percentage for the game.

UCSB did not fare as well in the second game, as the Gauchos were squarely behind the eight-ball from the outset. A kill from Jeremy Casebeer preceded a seven point serving streak from Kyle Caldwell, included a pair of aces, that ultimately put UCLA up 8-3.

Not to be discouraged, the Gauchos came storming back in the third game. Miles Evans had seven of his 19 kills in the frame, while Chad Kingi had five of his nine digs. An emphatic kill from Kevin Donohue sealed the deal for the Gauchos in the third- a set in which they never trailed.

The fourth game turned out to be a bit of a letdown, as UCSB hit just .077 as a team. Despite their difficulty attacking, UCLA had problems of their own, registering eight of their 23 service aces in the game, allowing the Gauchos to stay close. However, not all Bruin servers were having difficulty- much like in the first and second sets, an extended stretch of Kyle Caldwell serves spelled doom for UCSB, as he ralled them from a 11-11 tie to a 16-11 edge. Fittingly, Caldwell served and assisted on the match-clinching point for UCLA.

Despite the loss, UCSB Head Coach Rick McLaughlin saw encouraging signs from his team, saying "we're still a very young squad, but we're working very hard and you can see, in glimpses, what we're capable of doing. If we keep pushing at it, I can see this team making a playoff push."

Next week, the Gauchos will play a pair of important conference matches. On Wednesday, Feb. 15, they will host the Cal State Northridge Matadors at Rob Gym. They then travel to Long Beach to take on the 49er's on Friday, Feb. 17.

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