MALIBU, Calif. – No. 12 UC Santa Barbara couldn't sustain momentum after coming from behind to win the first set in Wednesday's MPSF contest at No. 9 Pepperdine, ultimately falling 3-1 to the host Waves in a dramatic contest at the Firestone Fieldhouse; 23-25, 25-12, 34-32, 31-29.
The final two sets were a tug-of-war between the Gauchos (6-6, 3-6 MPSF) and Waves (5-3, 3-2), and ended up as the two longest games of the season so far for UCSB.
As has been the case on the team's five-match losing streak, it wasn't a lack of offense that doomed the Gauchos, as all five hitters finished with at least nine kills.
Headlining the Gaucho offense was junior outside hitter Hayden Boehle, who had a career-high 17 kills, scooped 10 digs for his second double-double of the year, and led the team in swings for the first time in 2017.
Elsewhere, senior outside hitter Jacob Delson had 22 kills – his fourth 20+ kill performance of the year – opposite Corey Chavers continued his strong run of play with 14 kills, and middles Keenan Sanders (11 kills on 21 swings) and Connor Drake (nine kills on 19 swings) rounded out the offense.
Running it all was Casey McGarry, whose 62 assists were the most by a Gaucho setter since Vince Devany in 2009 and the most by any UCSB freshman setter in the rally-scoring era. Last but not least, libero Parker Boehle had a season-high 15 digs and was one of UCSB's best passers.
Outside hitter David Wieczorek was the difference-maker for Pepperdine, notching 20 kills on .488 hitting. Senior middle Mitchell Penning was even more efficient, grabbing 14 kills at a .609 clip. Setter Josh Stuart dished out 50 assists (12.5 per set) and led the Waves to a .386 team hitting percentage.
In the first game, the Gauchos fought back from a late 16-20 deficit to pull it out. A quick hit from Keenan Sander started the comeback, and then a service run from freshman libero Grady Yould extended UCSB's run to five straight, with the visitors taking their first lead at 21-20 on a Pepperdine attack error.
With the score tied at 23-23, two strong serves from Hayden Boehle led to an easy kill for Sanders and then another from Delson, who smashed home an overpass off the serve to clinch it.
Pepperdine recovered to hit .647 en route to a commanding win in set number two, but the final two games were much tighter to say the least. Over those final two stanzas, there were a combined 51 ties and 17 lead changes.
Neither team separated itself at any point in the third, but Pepperdine was able to take a small advantage into extra points, forcing UCSB to fight off seven set points before an error on a Gaucho back row attack ended it. UCSB was actually able to earn two game points during the back and forth – the first on a McGarry-Sanders block and the second on a Hayden Boehle kill – but Pepperdine was able to side out both times.
It was more of the same in the fourth for the Gauchos and Waves, with neither team grabbing a decisive lead. Once again, it was Pepperdine who was able to hold serve heading into extra points, with the Gauchos facing a total of five match points. UCSB looked like it might pull it out for a moment when a McGarry serve found a seam in the Waves back row to put the Gauchos up 29-28, but the home team roared back to nail down the final three points in succession.
UCSB wraps up its season-long four-match road swing on Saturday, Feb. 11 at No. 8 Stanford, with first serve scheduled for 7:00 p.m. The Gauchos return to Santa Barbara for a pair of contests next week, starting with a matchup against Long Beach State on Wednesday, Feb. 15.