March 11, 2014

Fourth-Ranked Gauchos Receive Highest Ranking of the Season, Host USC and Pepperdine

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• The Schedule
Wedneday, Mar. 12, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
No. 4 UCSB (12-5, 11-5) vs. No. 9 USC (11-7, 10-7)
at Rob Gym
Series record vs. USC – 58-53
Streak vs. the Trojans – Lost 1
UCSB Streak Overall – Won 3
USC Streak Overall – Lost 1
Last time out – L, 3-2 @ USC (2/6/14)

Friday, Mar. 14, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
No. 4 UCSB (12-5, 11-5) vs. No. 5 Pepperdine (10-5, 10-5)
at Rob Gym
Series record vs. Pepperdine – 35-64
Streak vs. the Waves – Won 1
UCSB Streak Overall – Won 3
Pepperdine Streak Overall – Won 1
Last time out – W, 3-2 @ Pepperdine (2/8/14)

• The Week In Review
UCSB kicked off a four-match homestand by sweeping fifth-ranked UCLA on Wednesday before taking down UCSD in straight sets on Friday. It was the first time UCSB had swept the Bruins since 1988. Weston Nielsen led the Gauchos to victory with a 13-kill performance. As a team, UCSB set a new season-high in hitting percentage with a .429 clip, which topped the previous high of .397 set eariler this season against UCSD. Middle Jake Staahl and Ryan Thompson chipped in 11 kills on 19 swings against the Bruins. The Gauchos dominated UCSD in a Friday sweep, holding the Tritons under 17 points in each set and suffocating their offense to the tune of a .016 hitting percentage . Nielsen once again led the team with a dozen kills on a career-best .668 attacking percentage, while Jonah Seif (career high-matching four aces, 29 assists, five digs, five blocks) had a strong all-around match as well. Only one UCSD player (Johl Awerkamp) finished with more than three kills.

• Poll Vaulters
After their 2-0 weekend, the Gauchos jumped to No. 4 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, which is the team's highest ranking since it's No. 2 finish in the 2011 postseason poll. UCSB hasn't been ranked this high in a regular season poll since Feb. 28, 2011. This week's opponents USC and Pepperdine are both ranked highly as well. USC sits in the No. 9 spot and has been ranked as highly as No. 4 this season, while fifth-ranked Pepperdine occupied the top spot in the poll at one point this season. UCSB is 7-5 against ranked opponents this year.

• Hot Start at Home
With a 9-1 record at home, the Gauchos are currently off to their best eight-match start to a home schedule in the MPSF era (since 1993). Since the start of last season, UCSB has been demonstrably better on its home court, putting together a winning percentage of .740 at Rob Gym compared to a .333 winning percentage on the road.

• Energy Needed Early
The first set has proved to be a good indicator of success in UCSB's matches so far in 2014. The winner of the first set in matches involving the Gauchos has gone 15-2 this year.

• Nice Week for Nielsen
Junior outside hitter Weston Nielsen was an MPSF Player of the Week nominee after averaging 4.16 kills per set in the two wins, leading the team in putdowns both times. His .688 hitting percentage against UCSD was a career high, and he is the first UCSB outside to hit .500 or better in back-to-back matches this season.

• Dependent on Digs
Moreso than any other statistic, an advantage in digs has been the best predictor of a winner in UCSB's matches. The Gauchos are undefeated in the 11 matches where they have outdug their opponents, but are just 1-5 in matches where they are outdug. Chad Kingi (2.13 digs per set) and Jonah Seif (1.89 per set) are the only individual Gauchos among the top-15 conference-wide, but Evan Licht (1.66) and Austin Kingi (1.57) are both knocking on the door.

• Top Defense
As they have the majority of the season, the Gauchos currently sport the best defense in the MPSF with a .210 opponents' hitting percentage. UCSB is actually far away from the pack in this category, as their 30-point advantage over second-best USC (.240) is larger than the Trojans' lead on ninth-best Hawai'i (.267).

• Serving in a Groove
With 25 service aces in their last three matches, UCSB has shot up to the summit of the MPSF with 1.41 aces per game. Jonah Seif (0.34 aces per game, fifth in the conference) and Evan Licht (0.33, sixth) are both in the MPSF top-10, while Austin Kingi (0.25 per game) and Matt Hanley (0.24 per game) have had dominant runs from the service line as well.  

• California Dreaming
UC Santa Barbara is the only squad in NCAA men's volleyball to have a team comprised solely of players from California. All 19 players on Rick McLaughlin's team were raised in the Golden State, stretching from Nevada City in the north (Bobby Curtis) to Coto de Caza in the south (Spencer Buckley).