SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – A stray ball that struck a control panel during warmups may have knocked out the stereos at Rob Gym on Friday night, but that didn't stop the UC Santa Barbara men's volleyball team from bringing the noise in a demonstrative 3-0 defeat of visiting Fort Wayne, giving the Gauchos their fourth consecutive victory. Set scores were 27-25, 33-31, 25-13.
Sophomore setter and reigning Big West Defensive Player of the Week Randy DeWeese ran a balanced attack for UCSB (8-5), which with a .306 team hitting percentage finished at a clip over .300 for the third straight match. The Gauchos' top three hitters on Friday – reigning Big West Player of the Week Keenan Sanders, outside hitter Corey Chavers, and middle blocker Connor Drake – all finished with between 10-13 kills. Right behind that trio were sophomore middle Brandon Hopper – who notched seven kills on just 10 swings – and Roy McFarland, who added six.
"That was a very good team we were able to beat tonight," said UCSB head coach Rick McLaughlin. "They play as hard as any team I've ever seen and are very well-coached. I like the way our team battled when we needed it most at the end of the first two games."
Coming off an upset of No. 3 UC Irvine on Thursday night, Fort Wayne (14-5) were paced by Pelegrin Vargas's 14 kills.
The Gauchos found themselves behind the eight ball in the first set, trailing by as many as four midway through. Drake and DeWeese helped UCSB begin to make their charge back at 18-15, as the two teamed up for a double-block before a Drake quick hit caused an overpass which led to an easy kill for DeWeese that made it 18-18. UCSB took its first lead since the opening point of the match on a Corey Chavers ace – the first of his career-high five on the night – to make it 24-23. A flurry of service errors eventually led to a game-clinching block from Drake and McFarland, UCSB's sixth and final of the opening frame.
The second was the closest of the night, resulting in the longest set of the season so far for UCSB at 64 points. Ironically, the Gauchos looked like they wouldn't need extra points as a quick hit from Drake at 24-23 found the floor, but UCSB's junior middle was whistled for a lift on the play, setting up the Gaucho-Mastodon drama down the stretch. UCSB stayed in control for most of the time late, reaching six set points compared to Fort Wayne's two, and the Gauchos really took off after the Mastodons went up 31-30, reeling off three straight points – including back-to-back kills from McFarland – to steal the set.
UCSB went on to dominate the third and final set, jumping ahead 6-0 out of the gate and never letting up. The Gauchos really put the third out of a reach with an 8-0 run featuring four aces from Chavers to make it 17-5, then took their biggest lead of the night at 20-6 off a kill from Sanders, his team-high fourth of the set.
The Gauchos will look to stretch their winning streak to five on Saturday night, hosting No. 10 Ball State at 7:00 p.m.