SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Behind a great all-around performance from its entire starting lineup, No. 7 UC Santa Barbara closed its regular season with a four-game upset of third-ranked Stanford on Saturday night at Rob Gym, 25-19, 23-25, 25-23, 25-23.
With the result, UCSB finishes the season with 19-9 record, a five-match winning streak, and a 17-5 mark in MPSF play. Having clinched the fifth seed with a four-set win over Pepperdine on Wednesday, the Gauchos are now set to re-match the Cardinal (19-5, 17-5), who dropped from second place to the fourth place in the conference with the loss.
"This is a great night for the Gauchos and for our seniors in particular," said UCSB head coach Rick McLaughlin. "I'm extremely proud of all our seniors."
Four separate Gauchos recorded double-digits in the tense, playoff-like match, led by Austin Kingi's 14. Setter Jonah Seif had a second outstanding performance running the offense, picking up 47 assists, directing the team to a .360 hitting percentage, and earning his sixth double-double of the year with 10 digs.
Joining Seif in the double-digit club was sophomore outside hitter Hayden Boehle, who had 12 kills and 10 digs. Elsewhere, junior opposite Matt Marsh had 13 kills and freshman middle blocker Henri Cherry had an impressive 12 kills on just 16 swings.
The Gauchos seemed to feed off a pre-game ceremony that honored UCSB's five departing seniors – Kingi, Marsh, Hardy, Seif, and outside hitter Spencer Buckley – coming out with purpose in the opening game.
UCSB used a four-point run early, behind the serving of Hardy, to go ahead 6-3. Their advantage only grew throughout the set, as the Gauchos hit at a blistering .615 clip for the frame.
Kingi was a key figure for UCSB in the opener, putting down six key kills. One of those kills put the Gauchos ahead 16-11 for their biggest lead yet, and another put the stanza out of reach at 23-16. Later, Stanford's Kevin Rakestraw recorded an ace to give the Cardinal hope, but he netted on his next serve to hand the Gauchos the set win.
The Gauchos had their worst performance in set two, but they still took the Cardinal to the brink before the away squad was able to tie the match. There were 15 ties and seven lead changes during the set, with UCSB leading as late as 22-20. Unfortunately, Stanford closed the game on a 5-1 run featuring two kills from Madison Hayden and a decisive ace that fell between UCSB's serve receivers.
UCSB bounced back in the third by hitting .385, led by four kills apiece from Marsh and Cherry. The Gauchos didn't create any separation until a Seif-Hardy block sparked a 4-1 run that put the home team up 12-9 after being tied at 8-all. UCSB maintained that lead until back-to-back Stanford blocks brought them within two at 23-21.
A quick hit from Cherry gave UCSB set point at 24-21, but the Cardinal responded with a dump from setter James Shaw before Marsh hit long to make it 24-23. After a UCSB timeout, Stanford's Conrad Kaminski netted with his jump float and the Gauchos went up 2-1.
UCSB kept its foot on the pedal in the decisive fourth, responding to an early hole by tying it up at 10-10. From there, Marsh terrorized the Cardinal with his jump serve for a quick three-point run that made it 13-11 in UCSB's favor. A long attack from Stanford's Hayden stretched UCSB's lead to 17-13 and forced a timeout. The Gauchos kept up their tough serve though, leading to more Stanford attack errors.
Like in the third, Stanford pulled it together at the end of the set, pulling off a 5-2 run to shrink UCSB's lead to 22-20. The teams traded points from there, with Seif notching the last of his four kills to set up game point at 24-21. Finally, Cherry had a tip go off the block and fall to the floor to seal the win.
The Gauchos will travel to Palo Alto to take on the Cardinal once again on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. This is UCSB's fourth consecutive trip to the postseason and its fifth MPSF Tournament berth in eight seasons under McLaughlin.