Men's Volleyball Opens 2018 Season With Four-Set Triumph Over NJIT

Connor Drake (photo by Tony Mastres)
Connor Drake (photo by Tony Mastres)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – UC Santa Barbara men's volleyball opened the 2018 season on the right foot Thursday night, topping NJIT in a four-set decision at Robertson Gymnasium in the team's first match of the UCSB Asics Invitational Tournament.

The Gauchos (1-0) shook off a slow start in the win, hitting just .100 in the first set but recovering to claim the final three stanzas in a row. When all was said and done, the hosts outhit the Highlanders (0-2) .239 to .159.

A trio of Gauchos made their presence known in their 2018 debut.

Redshirt junior middle blocker Connor Drake set new career highs in both total blocks (nine) and solo blocks (three), playing a lead role in a Gaucho blocking effort that outproduced NJIT 14 to 6.5, including an 11-3.5 advantage over the final three games. He was also solid on the attack, posting seven kills on .385 hitting.

Sophomore outside Roy McFarland had an efficient night on the left side, landing a team-high 12 kills on just 23 swings (.391). He was also one of four UCSB players with multiple aces – the Gauchos nearly doubled up the Highlanders in the aces department, 9-5 – and had five digs.

Sophomore setter Randy DeWeese utilized his 6-6 frame to impact the match in all facets, dishing out 31 assists, playing a big part at the net with five blocks including two solos, adding five kills off the dump, and flirting with a double-double by posting eight digs, just one behind sophomore libero Grady Yould's team-best nine. 

UCSB struggled to get into a rhythm in the opening stanza, which allowed the Highlanders' top two offensive performers to hand them an early lead. Outside hitter Rubio Alvaro had four of his team-high 16 kills in the first and served his team to an early 5-1 advantage. Though the Gauchos clawed back to briefly take the lead at 13-12, left-handed opposite Raymond Kowalski put down a kill and then delivered two aces as part of a decisive run that put the visitors up 20-15.

The Gauchos flipped the script in the second game, with redshirt sophomore middle blocker Brandon Hopper (three kills, two blocks, one ace) and DeWeese authoring long runs to help UCSB tie it 1-1 despite being outhit in the frame. 

Led by five kills on seven swings from McFarland, UCSB had its most cohesive and productive offensive set in the third, as five of the six Gauchos to start the set finished with multiple kills. A solo block from Drake and an ace from sophomore opposite Spencer Fredrick (six kills, two aces, five digs, two blocks) served as pivotal plays in an 8-3 run that gave UCSB its biggest lead of the set at 17-10.

Four kills from junior outside hitter Corey Chavers (11-6-35 overall for the night) and three blocks apiece from DeWeese and Drake helped UCSB overcome an early deficit in the fourth. The teams would get into a dogfight down the stretch, leading to a tense 19-19 tie. From there, UCSB pulled away with a win-clinching 6-1 run including back-to-back Drake-DeWeese double blocks to set up match point, which Drake immediately converted on with a kill off the block. 

UCSB returns to action tomorrow on the second day of Asics Invitational with a showdown against St. Francis in Rob Gym at 8:00 p.m.