SANTA BARBARA, Calif.- The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos won their third-straight match by sweeping UC San Diego (25-15, 25-13, 25-17) only a couple days removed from their historic sweep of UCLA. The Gauchos (12-5, 11-5 MPSF) not only improved their current win streak but also extend their best home winning record at Robertson Gymnasium to 9-1 since joining the MPSF in 1993.
Senior opposite Evan Licht set the tone for the night with his thunderous serves. The Gauchos' service game clearly dominated and prevented UCSD from putting together their offensive game. Licht's very first serve was too much for the Triton defense to handle, forcing an easy over for junior middle blocker Jake Staahl to slam for a kill. The service game continued to hamper any response from the Tritons, forcing a timeout after Staahl and Weston Nielsen teamed up for a block at the net. Staahl and Nielsen teamed up for another block immediately following the timeout but the team fell out of rhythm with the pace they had set so far.
The Tritons were able to pull close to the Gauchos mid-set at 16-11 but sophomore setter Jonah Seif reinforced the team's service dominance. Seif started with a solid ace down the middle and hit another ace to put the Gauchos firmly up 21-11. Though UCSB gave up a few points to UCSD, they were able to secure win off Nielsen's fifth kill for the set, a perfect 5 kills off 5 swings, followed by another Seif and Staahl block. Seif was a part of each of the team's four blocks in the set, while Staahl and Nielsen each assisted in 2.
UCSD came out early in the second set to keep the game close. Nielsen called for energy from the team as a sign of encouragement. Matt Hanley answered the call by slamming 2 aces passed the Tritons to pull the Gauchos out to a comfortable 12-4 lead. Hanley's 2 aces in the set, and ultimately the match, fell one short of his career best 3 aces which he set against UCSD last week. Ryan Thompson and Seif each tacked on an additional service ace. UCSB cruised to win the set as an all-around team offensive performance captured the second set win, including kills from late set subs Ryan Hardy (1) and Kevin Donohue (2).
The Gauchos came out for the third set as strong as they did in the first. After a UCSD service error, Staahl and Nielsen teamed up for an authoritative block. Again, Seif with his service game proved critical to UCSB and put the team up 8-3. However, UCSD was able to stay in the game and trade points with the Gauchos. Ultimately, UCSB proved too much as Nielsen pounded an additional 6 kills, hitting .681 clip for the night with a total of 12 kills, as well as a service ace and an assist in a block. Further, both Seif and Thompson hit a perfect 4 kills on four swings. Off the bench, Hardy nailed a kill and assisted in 2 blocks while Donohue finished off the match with a decisive service ace.
When asked about his performance on the night, Nielsen attributed his success to the team's overall performance, "Tonight our middles were pulling a lot of the block and Evan on the right pulled block so I was only getting one guy up [to contest the attack]and sometimes no guys up. Overall, we've been paying more attention to the details, making sure we're ripping our serves and taking care of the ball. After that, everything else follows."
Coach Rick McLaughlin attested to the team's overall cohesion, "We passed well tonight. When we do that our offense tends to click more. The more consistently we do that the more and more in sync the offense is." McLaughlin also noted the depth of the team, highlighted by Hardy and Donohue's involvement in tonight's match. When pressed about the upcoming game against USC, McLaughlin felt confident about the rematch after the Gauchos "let one slip" previously as well as being able to handle USC's setter Micah Christenson, a member of the U.S. men' national team.
UCSB plays their critical rematch against USC in Rob Gym next Wednesday at 7 p.m. With a home winning record of 9-1, a three game win streak, and cohesive team play, the Gauchos look to avenge their loss earlier in the season. The Gauchos then host a formidable Pepperdine squad next Friday at 7 p.m.