No. 15 UCSB Battles Back, Scores Comeback 3-2 Win Over Harvard

Brandon Hopper (photo by Eric Isaacs)
Brandon Hopper (photo by Eric Isaacs)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – No. 15 UC Santa Barbara clawed back from a 2-0 deficit to eke out an exciting five-set victory over visiting Harvard in Monday's non-conference tilt at Rob Gym, 20-25, 22-25, 25-23, 33-31, 17-15.

The Gauchos (10-11) did well enough to send the game to a do-or-die fifth after dropping the first two sets, but found themselves in hot water once again trailing 14-12 and facing two match points for the Crimson (6-9). 

But at that point, rarely-used players Brandon Hopper (11 kills on .520 hitting, team-high eight blocks) and Roy McFarland (co-team high 13 kills in just three games) made the most of their opportunity, putting the team on their back to lead a victory-saving 5-1 run down the stretch. 

McFarland, who registered career highs with 13 kills and nine digs, started the comeback with a monster spike from the left side, sending setter Randy DeWeese (38 assists in three sets) to the service line. DeWeese's strong serve led to a poor Harvard pass giving UCSB a good opportunity, leading to a Hopper kill that made it 14-14 and forced a Harvard timeout. 

After the break, both Hopper and Corey Chavers (six kills, two aces in limited action) got a good read on a long set from the back row, getting to their right to stuff a Casey White swing and give UCSB its first match point. 

Though DeWeese served into the net on the next point, McFarland responded with consecutive kills to seal the epic comeback for the Gauchos, including an impresive match-winning kill off the block from the back row. 

"It's good that we have some depth and have guys who are ready to come in and make a difference, and they did that tonight," said UCSB head coach Rick McLaughlin. "Roy made a big difference, Corey Chavers came in and got us out of a big hole with three great serves in the fourth, Hopper was steady as a rock. It's good to see some new faces get in there and take care of business, they've been waiting a long time."

Of course, the fifth-set heroics wouldn't have been possible without the strong play of the team in the third and fourth sets, which coincided with the insertion of DeWeese and McFarland after the second game. 

Freshman opposite Spencer Fredrick was the driving force behind UCSB's win in the third, chipping in five of his nine kills in the frame as the Gauchos hit .308. Libero Grady Yould, who had a career-high 18 digs overall, had five key scoops in the third, helping limit the Crimson to .229 hitting after they hit over .300 in the first two stanzas. The Gauchos ended the third on a 4-1 run, with four different hitters chipping in a kill including a momentous spike of an overpass from DeWeese. 

The fourth set was the tighest of the match, producing 13 ties and seven lead changes while the Gauchos needed to accrue 33 points to win it. Neither team hit over .200, and with plenty of long rallies it was the Gaucho block (5.5 blocks in the set) that made the difference, with Hopper and Hayden Boehle (13 kills, 11 digs) chipping in three block assists apiece. The Gauchos trailed 23-20 at one point, but two McFarland kills, a Harvard attack error, and a Hopper-Chavers block rescued UCSB from the brink. 

After a long back and forth, UCSB broke through on a quick hit off the block from Hopper and a left-side swing from Boehle that was blocked out of bounds. 

"We haven't been able to come back like that in matches this year," said McLaughlin. "We've been in a lot of fifth set battles and we haven't been able to fight back so tonight was a step in a positive direction. That's the only way you learn how to do it, you make it happen."

Harvard, which runs the 6-2 offense rarely seen on the men's side, was led by Casey White's 19 kills. Setter Matthew Ctvrtlik finished a kill short of a triple-double with 30 assists and 12 digs. 

UCSB wraps up a four-match homestand on Wednesday night against Concordia University Irvine before taking next week off for final examinations. The CUI match, originally scheduled for Thursday, was moved up a day.