Gauchos Limit Mistakes in 3-1 Win at USC

Keenan Sanders (photo by Eric Isaacs)
Keenan Sanders (photo by Eric Isaacs)

LOS ANGELES – No. 15 UC Santa Barbara hit a season-high .386 en route to a 3-1 win over USC in Thursday night's non-conference action at the Galen Center, with set scores of 25-20, 25-23, 22-25, 25-23. 

The Gauchos (6-5) were led by the pin-hitting duo of Keenan Sanders and Corey Chavers. Sanders, a sophomore opposite, led all players with his second-straight 21-kill performance, giving him three 20+ kill outings this season. The San Diego native absolutely took over the match in the fourth set, needing just 15 swings to put down a dozen kills and help the team close out the match. Chavers, a junior outside hitter, had a strong all-around match with 15 kills on .419 hitting along with a pair of aces and a team-high seven blocks.

Elsewhere, sophomore setter Randy DeWeese had one of his strongest overall performances of the season, notching a double-double with 47 assists – a career-best for a four-set match – and 10 digs. The Sacramento native led the Gauchos in both digs and aces (three). 

While those three had the most-eye catching stat lines, UCSB performed well as a team, playing mostly mistake-free volleyball. The Gauchos finished just one over their season low in both attacking errors (11) and service errors (14), and UCSB played an additional set in Thursday night's contest compared to the match (vs. Stanford on Jan. 6) in which they set those season lows. UCSB also had a sizable advantage at the net, out-blocking the Trojans 14.5 to four. 

USC, which dropped its sixth straight match to fall to 4-13 overall, was led by Gianluca Grasso, who had team highs in both kills (14) and digs (11). 

The match was originally scheduled to be played on Jan. 12, but had to be rescheduled due to travel complications for UCSB caused by the Montecito mudslides.

UCSB continues its brief road trip tomorrow night with a conference tilt at UC San Diego. The Gauchos outlasted the Tritons in five last Friday, Feb. 21, in the first Big West match in conference history. 

Though the contest was a slugfest – USC hit a solid .303 in the loss – both teams started off relatively slow in the first, with both teams finishing below .250 for the set. The Gauchos never trailed in the first, but USC hung around keeping it close as late as 19-18, but UCSB went on to wrap it up with a 6-2 run, highlighted by a triple block from DeWeese, Chavers, and junior middle blocker Connor Drake (6-0-12, six blocks) to make it 22-18. 

Despite making just one attacking error and outhitting USC by nearly 300 points in the second set, it went down to the wire before UCSB could pull it out. Fortunately for the Gauchos, they converted on their first set point despite having USC on their tail at 23-22 and 24-23, with DeWeese hooking up with his middles twice in three plays to seal the set. 

Led by four kills on four swings from Grasso, USC had its best set in the third, taking away the sweep from UCSB and sending the match to four. 

The fourth set was the Sanders show for UCSB, as his dozen kills alone almost out-produced USC as a team. His strong play helped UCSB grab a sizable lead at 24-20, but the Trojans made it interesting by turning away three consecutive match points. At 24-23, Chavers took matters into his own hands with a solo block of a Jack Wyett swing to finish off the victory.