No. 9 UCSB Knocks Off Defending National Champion Loyola Chicago 3-1

Jacob Delson (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Jacob Delson (Photo by Tony Mastres)

CHICAGO – Behind junior outside hitter Jacob Delson's match-high 16 kills and 16 total team blocks, the No. 9 UCSB men's volleyball team upset third-ranked and defending national champion Loyola-Chicago in four sets (25-19, 25-21, 25-27, 25-14) on Sunday afternoon at Gentile Arena. 

The first match of the year for the Ramblers, the win for the Gauchos earned them a split on their season-opening excursion to Illinois after Saturday's four-game loss to Lewis, the runner-up in the 2015 National Championship. 

This is the first time UCSB has defeated the defending national champions since head coach Rick McLaughin's squad bested 2010 Champion Stanford on Apr. 8, 2011. 

"We played much more competitively today," said McLaughlin. "We served and blocked with better focus. It was very nice to get a split against two great MIVA programs."

Delson was the go-to guy on offense for UCSB on Sunday, but key contributions also came in from junior opposite Matt Marsh (11 kills), Austin Kingi, and Connor Drake (four kills apiece on limited swings).

Senior setter Jonah Seif was typically effective in all aspects of the game, recording 33 assists, three kills, a pair of service aces, eight digs, and four blocks. Sophomore libero Hayden Boehle added a team-best nine digs. 

The Gauchos' 16 blocks as a team were the most in a four-set match for the program since they notched 17 in a win at Long Beach State on Feb. 4, 2015. Senior middle blocker Ryan Hardy led UCSB's front row players with eight blocks (two solo), but Connor Drake (six blocks), Marsh (five), and Seif were all key factors at the net as well. 

UCSB didn't separate itself from Loyola until late in the first game, putting together a 9-3 run at 16-16 to claim the opener. Drake got that rally started with a kill, and then four LUC errors (two attacking, two serving) gave the Gauchos additional momentum. A Marsh ace made it 23-19 before Seif and Hardy recorded back-to-back solo blocks to win the game emphatically. 

Unlilke the first set, the Gauchos opened up the second on a 5-2 run, nursing that lead throughout the game. UCSB's biggest lead of the set came at 16-10 off a Marsh kill, one of his six in the frame. Though it was the only set in which he didn't record five kills, Delson still contributed with two aces. Hardy ended the game with another solo block of a Jeff Jendryk swing. 

In the tightest game of the match (16 ties, five lead changes), both teams struggled to get going offensively in the third, with UCSB hitting .073 for their lowest clip of the match and Loyola hitting an even .000. 

The Gauchos led by as much as three early in the game, but the Ramblers were resilient and didn't allow the deficit to grow any bigger than that. Staying within striking distance, Loyola then reeled off a 5-0 run late to go ahead 22-19. UCSB responded with three straight points of their own to tie it, but a Gaucho service error and a LUC double block at 25-25 allowed the home squad to take their only game of the match.

UCSB responded to the loss of the sweep with a dominant fourth game, forcing the Ramblers to an anemic -.147 hitting percentage, including 12 hitting errors. Five different Gauchos recorded a block in the game, with Delson chipping in another five kills to lead all hitters.

Seif steered UCSB to an 8-0 run to open the game from the service line, recording an ace and forcing Ramblers hitters into three attacking errors. Though Loyola recovered with a rally of their own to get within two at 11-9, the Gauchos answered right back with a 5-0 stretch to put the match out of reach at 16-9. Appropriately, the match ended with a Seif-Hardy double-block. 

UCSB will return to Santa Barbara next weekend to host the 2016 UCSB Asics Invitational on Jan. 8 & 9. Opponents on tap include Quincy, NJIT, and Sacred Heart. With 97 wins on his resume, McLaughlin can record his 100th victory as head coach of the Gauchos during the tournament.