Clutch Performances From Licht, Seif Catapult No. 9 UCSB Past No. 11 Hawai'i in Five Sets

Evan Licht (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Evan Licht (Photo by Tony Mastres)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Ninth-ranked UC Santa Barbara improved its home record to an impressive 5-1 mark on Friday night after besting visiting Hawai'i for the second time in as many nights, extending its winning streak over the Rainbow Warriors to seven matches with a nailbiting 3-2 victory.

Game scores for the match were 20-25, 25-23, 25-14, 21-25, 15-13. With the win, the Gauchos improved to 5-2 overall and 4-2 in the MPSF conference. No. 11 Hawai'i fell to 5-4, 3-3.

Fresh off a defeat the night prior, the Rainbow Warriors opened Friday's match with a 5-2 run, nursing a small lead throughout the first set. A 4-0 run from the Gauchos featuring a service ace from Austin Kingi gave the team life at 18-19, but that was close as they would get, as Hawai'i rebounded with a 6-2 run to close out the set.

Before Friday, the winner of the first set had gone on to win each of UCSB's matches so far this season, so the Gauchos were happy to buck that trend with a rebound performance.

The teams split the first four games, and a big lead was opened up by the eventual winner each time.Though three of the four sets were relatively close, there was not a single intra-game lead change all night – the winner of the first point ended up winning the set each time.

The fifth set bucked the trend, as the teams traded points and kept relatively close throughout. Back-to-back Hawai'i attacking errors with the score at 12-11 gave the Gauchos match point with a little cushion room. The Rainbow Warriors snagged the next two points to make it interesting, but UCSB's Jonah Seif would stuff a Joby Ramos attack attempt on the next play to give the Gauchos the win.

"It was a good battle," said UCSB head coach Rick McLaughlin. "It certainly wasn't the prettiest win, but guys stepped up at the right time and we were able to take two matches from a good team."

The UCSB offense began to come to life in the second. Senior opposite Evan Licht had a career night on Friday, recording 22 kills, the most by a Gaucho this season and one off his personal career high. The Manhattan Beach, Calif. native overcame a slow start, as he had only one kill in the first frame, but contributed 13 kills in games two and three to lead the UCSB comeback.

The Gauchos were able to mount a strong start in both games two (10-4 run to start the set) and three (13-3), and Hawai'i was never able to close the gap. Seif did a good job of balancing out the offense, as four players finished in double-digit kills (Licht, Kingi - 15, Jake Staahl, Matt Hanley - 10 each). The Thousand Oaks, Calif. native also picked up his first double-double of the season with his 45-assist, 11-dig scoreline, and also tied a career high with eight blocks.

After a dominant third set that saw UCSB hit a blistering .647 and hold Hawai'i to just 14 points, they struggled at the outset of game four, allowing the opposition to take a 14-10 lead. The Gauchos battled back to make it 21-all late in the set, but a double block from Taylor Averill and Sinisa Zarkovic sapped any momentum and precipitated a game-clinching 4-0 run.

The Gauchos did a good job scrambling on long rallies, as evidenced by abnormally high assist numbers for libero Chad Kingi (six) and outside hitter Hanley (three). Jake Staahl and Ryan Thompson dominated the middle at times, recording seven blocks apiece.

The Rainbow Warriors were led by outside hitter Brook Sedore (team-high 15 kills) and middle blocker Taylor Averill (14 kills, .500 hitting percentage, eight blocks). Hawai'i was much improved in the serving department, as they recorded five aces – including four in the first set – after being shut out on Thursday night.

The Gauchos will look to ride the momentum of this week into next, when they will face a pair of top-5 teams. They travel to No. 5 USC on Thursday before taking on No. 3 Pepperdine on Saturday. Both matches are scheduled for 7 p.m. starts.