UCSB Bounces Back With Win Over No. 3 Pepperdine

Weston Nielsen (Photo by Tony Mastres)

MALIBU, Calif. – After a disappointing loss to USC earlier this week, eighth-ranked UC Santa Barbara rebounded in a big way on Saturday night by downing No. 3 Pepperdine in five sets at the Firestone Fieldhouse behind a career night from Weston Nielsen.

Game scores in UCSB's first road win and second triumph over a top-three team this season were 25-22, 25-19, 25-27, 16-26, 15-12.

Nielsen, a junior outside hitter, was instrumental in the win for the Gauchos, who improved to 6-3, 5-3 following the victory. The Corona Del Mar, Calif. native shattered his previous career high of 12 by recording 18 kills against the Waves, and he finished just one dig shy of a double-double.

Senior opposite Evan Licht continued to be the offensive talisman for UCSB, leading the team in kills for the third straight match with 19. Though he had a modest attacking night with 10 kills, junior outside hitter Austin Kingi set season-high figures in digs (10) and blocks (four), recording his second double-double of the season.

Junior Jake Staahl once again led the way in the middle for UCSB, picking up seven kills on 15 swings and tying for the match lead with seven blocks.

Setter Jonah Seif had a typically productive all-around match, eclipsing the 50-assist mark for the first time this season (he finished with 53) while also recording nine digs and four kills, including the match-winner.

Seif's clincher was the high point of a 8-3 run to close out the decisive fifth set after the Pepperdine had been leading 9-7. A Staahl kill followed by a Staahl-Licht double-block helped break a 9-9 deadlock, then Nielsen struck one of UCSB's three aces on the day to take a commanding 14-11 lead. Two points later, Seif would dump an Austin Kingi pass to rescue the Gauchos win.

Pepperdine, who were coming off a sweep of top-ranked UCLA earlier in the week, fell to 6-2 overall and in MPSF play.

UCSB came out strong to begin the match, hitting a collective .350 over the first two sets to put the Waves on their heels. Pepperdine won a closely contested third by virtue of a 3-1 run to close the game after the score had been tied at 24, carrying over momentum into the fourth, when the Waves hit a blistering .542.

Pepperdine was led on offense by Josh Taylor, who had a match-high 21 kills. Parker Kalmbach wasn't far behind with 19 kills, while outside hitter Kyle Gerrans had the team's only double-double with 11 kills and 13 digs.

The Gauchos return to action at Rob Gym next week, where they hold a 5-1 record, hosting Cal State Northridge on Wednesday and Long Beach State on Friday. Both matches are slated for 7 p.m. start times.