No. 10 UCSB Dispatches UC Irvine in Three Sets

Austin Kingi (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Austin Kingi (Photo by Tony Mastres)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – No. 10 UC Santa Barbara put an end to a pair of losing streaks on Wednesday night, sweeping No. 12 UC Irvine 25-17, 26-24, 25-17 at Rob Gym. 

The victory snapped a mini-skid for the Gauchos (9-5, 5-4 in MPSF play), who entered the match on a three-match losing streak. It was also the first win over UC Irvine for the program since 2010, a span of 10 matches. 

The struggling Anteaters dipped to 3-8, 2-7 on the season.

"I thought our guys did a really good job of moving on to the next play and limiting service runs from the opponent," said UCSB head coach Rick McLaughlin. "We were consistent from the service line, which kept pressure on them to make plays. Our offense was evenly spread, so that combined with good passing caused issues for UC Irvine's block."

UCSB's offense was led Wednesday by senior outside hitter Austin Kingi, who had team highs with 10 kills and two aces on .450 hitting.

"It's good to have Austin in a leadership role out there," said McLaughlin. "When he's playing consistent and doing things behind the scenes, it raises the level of our team. I thought he did a good job of that tonight."

Kingi was assisted on the attack by junior opposite Matt Marsh (seven kills, two aces) and middles Ryan Hardy and Henri Cherry (six kills apiece). 

All-American senior setter Jonah Seif quarterbacked the offense to a .297 hitting percentage with 28 assists. 

For the fourth time in the past five matches, the UCSB front row was able to surpass the 10-block plateau, notching 11 in just three sets. The Gauchos' serving continutally kept UCI out of system, contributing to the Anteaters' lowly .081 hitting percentage. UCI's outsides were particularly haunted by UCSB's blocking on Wednesday, as they combined for a -.111 hitting percentage (16-22-54). 

Middle blocker Jason Agopian was the only Anteater to find any rhythm consistently, posting 10 kills on 14 swings.

Kingi led the charge for UCSB in set number one, collecting half of his 10 kills in the frame. Kingi went off the block to cap off a 4-0 run early in the set that created a cushion for UCSB at 11-6 and forced a UCI timeout. The Anteaters were never able to get any closer however, winning just two points off the serve the rest of the game, and the Gauchos were able to go up 1-0 on a crosscourt spike from freshman outside Corey Chavers, who had four kills and an ace in his first start since the Asics Invitational. 

UC Irvine responded to the deficit by coming out strong to start the second, jumping out to a 9-3 lead early. At that point, Cherry went to the service line for UCSB and sparked a 4-0 run that brought the Gauchos back within two thanks to consecutive double-blocks from Ryan Hardy, who was assisted by Chavers on the first and Marsh on the second. 

The Gauchos kept chipping away at the lead until a Cherry-Kingi block of a Tucker Pikula swing tied it up at 13-all. UCSB and UC Irvine would jockey for the lead until a Kingi ace put the Gauchos up for the first time at 18-17. UCSB increased that lead to 23-20 and looked ready to cruise to a 2-0 lead until the Anteaters stormed back for a 4-1 run that tied it at 24-all. UCI's late game momentum stalled out from there however, first with a serve into the net and then with a long Karl Apfelbach swing that ended the set. 

UCSB had an easier route to victory in the final game, hitting .360 behind Cherry's five kills while UCI hit just .045. With the score tied 10-10, UCSB ripped off a decisive 6-1 run featuring two kills apiece from Marsh and Cherry. The Anteaters got within three at 16-13, but that was a close as they could muster as UCSB was able to side out on each UCI serve the rest of the way. 

The Gauchos return to action on Friday night, hosting the UC San Diego Tritons on Friday night at 7:00 p.m.