Coming into the 2012 season, Dylan Davis's career high in kills was the 15 that he recorded in the NCAA semifinal match on May 5, 2011. Davis has now topped that career mark in consecutive matches- following up Wednesday night's 22 kill effort with another 17 on Friday night against Long Beach State.
Unfortunately, Dylan's sky-high output was not the only symmetry to be found betwen UCSB's last two matches. For the second match in a row, the Gauchos lost a hard fought, five-game match that spoiled outstanding performances from the UCSB middles. Friday night's loss was all the more agonizing considering UCSB's two-nil game advantage heading into the third set.
Game scores for the match were 22-25, 20-25, 25-21, 25-19, 15-13. Long Beach moved to a game over .500 at 9-8, with a 5-7 conference record. The 49ers retained their spot in seventh place in the conference standings. UCSB fell to 5-11, 3-9, and also retained their tenth-place spot in the standings thanks to a Hawai'i loss.
For the Gauchos, the star was clearly junior middle blocker Dylan Davis. Davis led the Gauchos in kills for the second consecutive night with 17. Finding the form that made him the most efficient hitter in the MPSF last season, Dylan finished with a .483 hitting percentage. Davis was also a monster at the net on Friday night, leading all players with nine total blocks- a whopping five of them solo.
Also impressive was sophomore middle blocker Ryan Thompson, who recorded five kills on just 10 swings to go along with 5 total blocks (3 solo).
The strong play from the middle blockers was indicative of budding chemistry with sophomore setter Bryce Miller, who in just his third appearance of the season picked up 47 assists-which, impressively, is actually his lowest output so far.
The success of the middles could not be replicated by the outside hitters, who struggled in the later parts of the match. Junior Miles Evans had a double-double for the third straight match, collecting 10 kills and 17 digs to lead the group. All three starting UCSB outside hitters were held to hitting percentages below .100 and accounted for five of the team's six receiving errors.
That lack of balance was especially acute in the decisive fifth set, when the Gauchos registered just one team kill and hit .-167.
Despite that lack of offense in the fifth, UCSB fought to the bitter end. A timeout from Head Coach Rick McLaughlin with UCSB trailing 8-13 seemed to re-energize his squad. Strong blocking from the Gauchos forced Long Beach State into several attacking errors, capped off by a double-block from Davis and freshman outside hitter Austin Kingi that brought UCSB within one point of a tie at 13-14.
However, Long Beach's Trevor Crabb crushed any thoughts of a comeback on the next play with a cross-court spike from setter Connor Olbright to claim the match.
Fueling the 49ers' come-from-behind victory was Jim Baughman, who put down 22 kills and four aces, which led all players in both categories. Libero Kyle McElderry was a rock on the back line, tallying 12 digs. Middle blocker Jeff Ornee tied Baughman for the team-lead in blocks with five.
Assistant Coach Aaron Mansfield lamented his team's performance, but dispelled any questions about physical fatigue after the two-hour, ten minute marathon. "I don't think physical fatigue played a factor, our guys are in pretty good shape. I think it goes back to us being a young team that needs to learn how to mentally grind. You saw us do it for 45 minutes but we need to learn how to keep it up for a whole match."
UCSB continues their five-match homestand next week, playing host to UC Irvine on Mar. 7 and UC San Diego on Mar. 9. The match on Wednesday, Mar. 7, will be the last for the Gauchos this season at Rob Gym. Beginning Friday, Mar. 9, the Gauchos will play the remainder of their home matches at the Thunderdome.
Tickets for those remaining home matches can be purchased here or in-person at the ticket office in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on campus.
For those unfamiliar with the Thunderdome, directions to the UCSB campus, as well as maps and parking information can be found here.