No. 13 UCSB Returns to Rob, Hosts Historic First-Ever Big West Conference Match

Photo by Eric Isaacs
Photo by Eric Isaacs

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Big West TV

• The Schedule
Wednesday, February 21 at 7:00 PM PT
UCSB vs. No. 10 Pepperdine (7-3)
at Rob Gym
TV: Big West TV
All-time Record / Streak vs. the Waves – 39-68 / Won 1
Record vs. Pepp in McLaughlin era: 7-12
Home record vs. Pepp in McLaughlin era: 2-6
UCSB Streak / Form – Lost 1 / W L L W L
Pepp Streak / Form – Won 3 / W L W W W
Last time out: UCSB 3-1 Pepp (1/20/18 @ Pepperdine)

Friday, February 23 at 7:00 PM PT
UCSB vs. UC San Diego (8-6)
at Rob Gym
TV: Big West TV
All-time Record / Streak vs. the Tritons – 38-8 / Won 10
Record vs. UCSD in McLaughlin era: 14-6
Home record vs. UCSD in McLaughlin era: 8-3 (won six straight)
UCSB Streak / Form – Lost 1 / W L L W L
UCSD Streak / Form – Won 1 / L L L L W
Last time out: UCSB 3-0 UCSD (2/24/17 @ UCSD)

• The Week Ahead
This week, UCSB hits the resume button on its season after a two-week layoff. On Wednesday, the Gauchos will host the tenth-ranked Pepperdine Waves in a rematch of a Jan. 20 contest in which UCSB emerged victorious in four sets in Malibu. That will also be the first non-tournament home match hosted by UCSB this season. Then on Friday, the Gauchos and UC San Diego Tritons will make history by playing the first Big West Conference match in league history. The Big West began sponsoring men's volleyball for the 2018 season. Both matches are set for 7:00 p.m. starts and will be streamed live and free of charge through Big West TV. 

• The Week in Review (Well, Two Weeks Ago)
UCSB was last in action the first weekend of February, splitting a pair of road contests at then-No. 6 BYU. The Cougars' home court, Smith Fieldhouse, is a notoriously tough place for away teams to win, but the Gauchos became just the fourth team in the last 10 years to sweep BYU with a 3-0 decision on Friday, Feb. 2. It was also UCSB's first sweep at BYU since the 1996 season. Keenan Sanders led the way in that match with 11 kills, but the Gauchos received a strong team performance as five of six starters hit north of .375 while outhitting the home team .312 to .230 overall. The Cougars returned the favor the following night with a sweep of their own, hitting .444 and racking up 12.5 blocks in just three sets. 

• Rank and File
UCSB appeared in the AVCA Division I-II national poll for the fifth consecutive time this week, remaining at No. 13 after debuting at No. 15 in the Jan. 22 poll. Among this week's opponents, Pepperdine is ranked No. 10 – the Waves' highest ranking this season – while UC San Diego is unranked. Wednesday's match will be UCSB's seventh-straight against an AVCA top-10 team. 

• Well Rested Gauchos
Thanks to the recent two-week layoff as well as a pair of matches rescheduled due to the Montecito mudslides in early January, UCSB has played just eight matches to this point in the season. No team in the NCAA has played fewer than the Gauchos' eight matches.

• Big West Hits the Ground Running
Though 2018 is the first season of Big West men's volleyball, all indications are that the league will be a powerhouse on the national scene. The Big West has a .735 combined winning percentage, which is exactly 100 points higher than the next-best conference (MIVA: .635). The Big West is also the only league in the country that has no teams under .500 (the MIVA is closest with one under and two at .500). 

• Battle Tested
Entering the weekend, UCSB has the single-toughest season schedule of any NCAA team. The Gauchos' past and future opponents have combined for a .640 winning percentage, highest in the country. UCSB is one of just eight schools with an opponents' winning percentage north of 60%. 

• Sanders Makes His Return
Despite missing the first three weeks of the season due to injury, sophomore opposite Keenan Sanders has shown he's no worse for wear in his return to the court. He started off with nine kills on just 17 swings in his season debut at Loyola-Chicago on Jan. 25, then followed that up with a career-high 24 kills against Lewis. He stepped his game up even more the following week, taking home Big West Player of the Week accolades after leading UCSB's offense in a split at BYU. Sanders was a Freshman All-American in 2017 as a middle blocker after averaging 2.22 kills on .373 hitting for the year.

• Club 24
Entering the season, only three Gauchos had ever notched 24 kills in a match in the 25-point rally scoring era (since 2009). Now that exclusive club has two more members, as Corey Chavers and Sanders reached the 24-kill mark in consecutive weekends. Chavers landed 24 kills at Pepperdine on Jan. 20 in a 3-1 Gaucho win, earning him conference weekly player of the week honors. Then on Jan. 27 at Lewis, Sanders reached 24 to mark just the second time in the McLaughlin era (also since 2009) that two teammates both had 24 single-match kills in one season (last: Jeff Menzel and Cullen Irons: 2009). The other member of UCSB's Club 24 is Jacob Delson (2016). 

• Chavers Stepping Up 
In his junior season, Chavers is clearly UCSB's go-to left side hitter, as he has nearly twice as many swings (270) as the next Gaucho (Roy McFarland: 150). A junior from Downey, Calif., he is taking advantage of that high volume with a 3.78 kills per set average which ranks fifth in the Big West and 13th in the nation among qualified players. He was voted Big West Player of the Week on Jan. 22 after knocking down 24 kills in UCSB's previous matchup with Pepperdine. In fact, the Gauchos have had the conference's player of the week in two of the four weeks they've been in action this season.

• Home Sweet Home
This week's contests are the first at home since Jan. 6. The 46-day gap between home matchups is the longest of the McLaughlin era (2009). After the season-opening UCSB Asics Invitational, the Gauchos embarked on a five-match, three-week road trip (originally seven matches over four weeks, but contests at UCLA, USC were rescheduled). 

• Yould Be Sorry You Swung Towards Him
Sophomore libero Grady Yould has transitioned seamlessly into the starting libero spot for the Gauchos, boasting a 2.31 digs per set rate that narrowly places second in the Big West behind UCI's David Parker (2.43). His 15 digs against Loyola-Chicago on Jan. 25 are the most in a single match by a Big West player this season. 

• DeWeese Does it All
A sophomore standing 6-6, Randy DeWeese is impacting the match with more than just his setting. His 0.41 aces per set rank sixth in the league, he has chipped in at least three kills in four matches, is hitting .438, and has the most blocks (20) on the team. His 6.9 assists per set average jumps to 8.0 when discounting matches he didn't start.