Gauchos Fight For a Playoff Spot at Cal Baptist, USC

Photo by Eric Isaacs
Photo by Eric Isaacs

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• The Schedule
Thursday, Mar. 30 at 7 PM PT
No. 15 UCSB vs. Cal Baptist (6-18, 1-13 MPSF)
at Van Dyne Gym in Riverside, Calif.
All-time Record / Streak vs. the Lancers – 14-6 / Won 7
UCSB Streak / Last 10 – Lost 1 / 4-6
CBU Streak / Last 10 – Won 3 / 3-7
Last time out: UCSB 3-2 USC (1/18/17 @ UCSB)

Friday, Mar. 31 at 7 PM PT
No. 15 UCSB vs. No. 11 USC (11-12, 5-9 MPSF)
at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, Calif.
All-time Record / Streak vs. the Trojans – 63-54 / Won 3
UCSB Streak / Last 10 – Lost 1 / 4-6
USC Streak / Last 10 – Won 5 / 7-3
Last time out: UCSB 3-0 CBU (1/20/17 @ UCSB)

• The Week Ahead
This week, UCSB faces its two most important matches of the season so far, traveling for road matches at Cal Baptist and at USC. With four matches remaining in the season, the Gauchos find themselves tied with the Trojans for the eighth and final spot in the MPSF Tournament. USC has a pair of contests against the basement-dwelling Lancers next week, so a pair of wins for the Gauchos this week are crucial for the team's playoff chances.

• Back At It
Thursday's contest at Van Dyne Gym will represent UCSB's first match since Mar. 15 (a four-set loss to Concordia) and first MPSF showdown since Mar. 8 (a sweep over CSUN). That matchup with the Matadors has been UCSB's only conference tilt to this point this month, and that match was only played in March because it was postponed due to heavy storms on the originally-scheduled date of Feb. 27. The Gauchos' bye week last week coincided with final examinations.

• Rank and File
UCSB remained at No. 15 in the AVCA Men's Division I-II poll for the third consecutive week. Meanwhile, USC checked in at No. 11 while struggling Cal Baptist is unranked.

• Playoff Picture
With CSUN all but eliminated from playoff contention with a 5-12 record and a matchup against No. 1 Long Beach State to close out the season, it's now down to four teams for the final three spots in the MPSF Tournament: Stanford (6-8), Pepperdine (6-9), USC, and UCSB. Unfortunately for the Gauchos, they have by far the toughest schedule out of those four teams, as their opponents have a .567 MPSF winning percentage compared to sub-.500 marks for Pepperdine (.448), Stanford (.372), and USC (.268). That makes this week's matches all the more vital with a pair of showdowns against No. 3 BYU looming to close out the year.

• Delson is Excellin'
Outside hitter Jacob Delson is having a breakthrough season as a senior, as he has recorded a 4.46 kills per set average this year which ranks second in the MPSF and third in the country among qualified players. He has played sparingly in March due to a tender ankle, but totaled a team-high 22 kills against Lewis in his longest outing. Earlier this season, he grabbed 34 kills against UC Irvine, becoming just the second Gaucho in the McLaughlin era (since 2008) to reach that mark and the first since Jeff Menzel in 2010.

• California Boys
As is usually the case, the 2017 UCSB men's volleyball team is comprised solely of California natives. The Gauchos are the only NCAA Division I-II team made up entirely of players from California.

• Block Party
UCSB's young middle blocking corps has proved to be effective beyond its years this season, as a number of Gaucho middles are putting forth excellent statistical seasons. Just a freshman, San Diego native Keenan Sanders has been the Gauchos' most consistent middle, with seven double-digit kill performances on a .451 hitting percentage that ranks second in the league among qualified players. Meanwhile, sophomore Connor Drake has been on fire at the net lately, grabbing 50 blocks since the start of February to increase his blocking average to an MPSF-best 1.25 per game. Last but not least, sophomore Henri Cherry has been effective off the quick hit when called upon, hitting at a .438 clip (eighth in the MPSF).

• Can You Dig It?
Behind senior libero Parker Boehle's 2.22 digs per set average, the Gauchos enter the week with the best digs rate in the league at 9.13 per game. A total of four UCSB players are averaging more than 1.50 digs per set, while eight are scooping at 1.00 digs per set or higher. The Gauchos have a 10.09 digs per set average in the month of March.

• Depth Proven
With a slate of non-conference matches and some injuries to starters, a number of Gauchos got to show their stuff earlier this month. Standouts include: middle blocker Brandon Hopper, who has hit .543 this month and had a solid 11 kill-eight block double-double against Harvard, outside Roy McFarland, who has 27 kills over his last two matches and was a key figure in the team's five-set comeback win over Harvard on Mar. 13, and libero Grady Yould who had 18 digs in the Harvard match, the most by a UCSB player in a single match this season.

• Tripping up the Trojans, Lancers
Needing wins to keep their playoff aspirations alive, UCSB will be happy to see USC and CBU this weekend, as the Gauchos have done well against those two Southland teams in recent years. UCSB has defeated the Lancers in seven straight, with its last loss coming back in 2013. The Gauchos have also won three straight against the Trojans dating back to 2015.  

• Big West Adds Men's Volleyball
2017 will be the last season in the MPSF for UCSB, as the Gauchos will be an inaugural member when the Big West Conference adds men's volleyball for the 2018 season. They will be joined by Hawaii, Long Beach State, UC Irvine, CSUN, and UC San Diego.

• Bright Future
Though the team only returned two starters from last season, the future looks bright for the Gauchos, as the coaching staff brought in the No. 5 ranked recruiting class this season. Three freshmen, middle Keenan Sanders and setters Casey McGarry and Randy DeWeese, have received heavy playing time already.