No. 12 Gauchos Stay Hot, Top USC in Five

Jacob Delson (photo by Eric Isaacs)
Jacob Delson (photo by Eric Isaacs)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – No. 12 UC Santa Barbara outlasted visiting USC on Wednesday night, playing their best volleyball of the night in the decisive fifth set to earn a 25-21, 21-25, 25-18, 19-25, 15-10 victory at Rob Gym. 

As he has done often so far in the young season, senior outside hitter Jacob Delson led the way for UCSB (5-1, 2-1 MPSF) with a career-high 22 kills on .447 hitting and four aces. He turned it up another notch in the fifth game, taking over the match with six kills, an ace, and a block as the Gauchos hit .412 and won the set with relative ease. 

USC (2-4, 1-2) played well in the even sets and finished with a .299 team hitting percentage, but couldn't recover from a slow start in the fifth. 

The victory was UCSB's fifth straight against USC at Rob Gym. 

"We played our best game in the fifth when it counted most, and it was good to see us doing whatever it took to get the W," said UCSB head coach Rick McLaughlin. "We need to improve on our ability to not give up runs of points, and tightening up our serve reception will help a ton. But it was great to see "Deli" take over like he did in game five. He's been playing extremely well."

Delson gave the Gauchos a huge lead at the outset of the fifth game, scoring two points off tips and then teaming up with Keenan Sanders for a block to go up 3-0. He would add another kill and an ace off the jump serve to put UCSB up 5-2. 

USC tried to put up a fight, but a monster Delson spike from the right side gave UCSB it's biggest lead yet at 10-6, forcing a Trojan timeout. The teams would trade the serve until a Henri Cherry-Corey Chavers double-block set up match point, with Cherry going off the top of the block with a quick hit to clinch the win. 

Though it was the Delson show in the fifth, there were opportunities for other Gauchos to shine earlier in the match. Chavers, a sophomore opposite, had arguably his best match as a Gaucho with career highs in kills (14) and blocks (seven). Middles Keenan Sanders (10 kills in the first three sets) and Cherry (eight kills, five blocks) were also solid, while freshman setter Casey McGarry continued to impress with 49 assists and seven digs. 

Strong passing helped the Gauchos to a win in set one, as McGarry was able to spread the ball around (Delson and Sanders had five kills apiece) and USC was unable to get more than two points in a row off the serve all game. 

Both offenses thrived in set two, with UCSB hitting .389 to USC's .444. However, two long serving runs turned a 10-10 deadlock into a 16-12 advantage for the Trojans, and the Gauchos were unable to close that gap by set's end. Outside hitter Lucas Yoder had five of his team-high 17 kills in the frame. 

UCSB rode Delson (six kills) and Sanders (four kills on four swings) to a relatively easy set three win. Junior outside Hayden Boehle started the decisive run for UCSB with strong serving, leading to two easy kills for Sanders as part of 3-0 run that put the Gauchos up for good at 16-13. Another Delson ace pushed the lead to 20-16, with Sanders eventually ending it on a spike of an over pass.

The Gauchos struggled in game four, hitting just .100 and contributing four straight attack errors as part of a midgame 5-0 USC run that created a big cushion at 15-10. 

UCSB wraps up a seven-match homestand on Friday night against Cal Baptist at 7:00 p.m.