SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Playing at Rob Gym for the first time in over two weeks, the No. 11 UC Santa Barbara men's volleyball team outright dominated previously undefeated Cal State Northridge in a straight-sets sweep (25-11, 25-23, 25-17) in Wednesday's Mountain Pacific Sports Federation contest.
UCSB (8-2, 4-1 in conference) has now won three straight and eight of their past nine. No. 12 CSUN dropped its first match of the season, moving its record to 7-1, 2-1 on the young season. Wednesday's match lasted just 74 minutes.
"We served well and kept them out of system most of the night," said UCSB head coach Rick McLaughlin. "CSUN is one of the best serving teams in the country but they were off tonight. We will start focusing on LBSU tomorrow. They are one of the top two teams in the country so it will be a great challenge for us."
Reigning MPSF Player of the Week Matt Marsh once again led the Gauchos in kills with 13 while hitting .500. The opposite was helped out on the flanks by outside hitters Jacob Delson (10 kills) and Austin Kingi (seven).
However, it was UCSB's serving and blocking that shined against the Matadors.
As a team, the Gauchos tallied 13 blocks on the night, their second-most in any match this season and easily their most in three-set contest. Senior middle blocker Ryan Hardy was the most productive Gaucho at the net, accruing a career-high 10 blocks. However, all five other starters had multiple blocks as well, led by Kingi's four and Marsh's three.
Though only four aces were recorded by UCSB, the Gauchos' strong serving led to a number of shanked passes by CSUN, partially explaining its anemic .087 team hitting percentage.
Conversely, UCSB hit a solid .314 in the match, the ninth time this season that the squad has hit over .250. Marsh's .500 percentage led all eligible Gaucho hitters, and that clip would have been much higher were it not for three attack errors in the final game, as the opposite was swinging .692 through the contest's first two sets.
The opening stanza of the match was one of the most dominant in UCSB history, as the Gauchos held the Matadors to just 11 points, tied for the fewest single-game points scored by a UCSB opponent in the rally scoring era.
The Gauchos did most of their damage in the first game at the net, totaling seven blocks as a team – including five from Hardy – and forcing CSUN to a -.211 hitting percentage. The home squad jumped out to a 15-4 lead at the outset, thanks in part to CSUN making seven errors on their first 11 swings, five of which were the result of a UCSB block.
As a result of their control at the net, the Gauchos needed just seven kills of their own to reach the necessary 25 points. UCSB's lead grew as large as 14 points at 24-10 before CSUN's Chance Earnest ended the game with a service error.
The middle game was the only one on Wednesday that was somewhat competitive, with CSUN building an 6-4 lead early. Luckily for UCSB, Marsh went into overdrive mode in the second game, notching eight kills on just nine swings. One of those kills put the Gauchos up 8-7, giving them a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the game. The Matadors got within one late, but Delson extinguished their hopes of a comeback with a game-clinching kill.
UCSB went back to their dominant ways in the third, going up 15-8 after an 11-4 stretch featuring long serving runs from Delson and freshman middle blocker Connor Drake. Another 4.5 team blocks for the Gauchos in the set helped keep the Matadors from building any momentum before Drake ended the match with a quick hit through the block.
Having knocked off one of two remaining unbeaten teams in the conference, UCSB will face its toughest test so far this season on Friday night when they host the second-ranked Long Beach State 49ers at Rob Gym. First serve is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.