Gauchos Do Battle Against Top-Ranked Long Beach State in Home-and-Home Series

Photo by Eric Isaacs
Photo by Eric Isaacs

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Big West TV

• The Schedule
Thursday, March 15 at 7:00 PM PT
UCSB vs. No. 1 Long Beach State (17-0, 2-0)
at the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, Calif. 
TV: Big West TV
All-time Record / Streak vs. the 49ers – 50-47 / Lost 4
Record vs. LBSU in McLaughlin era: 7-12
LBSU Streak / Last 10 – Won 17 / 10-0
UCSB Streak / Last 10 – Won 5 / 6-4
Last time out: LBSU 3-0 UCSB (Feb. 15, 2017 @ UCSB)

Friday, March 16 at 7:00 PM PT
UCSB vs. No. 1 Long Beach State
at Rob Gym
TV: Big West TV

• The Week Ahead
This week, UCSB goes toe to toe with the top team in the country, No. 1 Long Beach State, in a home-and-home series. The Gauchos travel to the Walter Pyramid on Thursday night before hosting the 49ers at Rob Gym on Friday night. Both matches are slated for 7:00 p.m. starts. 

• The Week in Review
UCSB kept it rolling last week, reeling off back-to-back sweeps against non-conference opponents Fort Wayne and No. 10 Ball State at home. Against the Mastodons on Friday, UCSB eked out the first two sets in extra points before dominating the third set to finish off the sweep. UCSB's top three hitters finished between 10-13 kills in that contest. The Gauchos held the tenth-ranked Cardinals under 20 points in all three games on Saturday, hitting .329 as a team and dominating the serve-and-pass battle (UCSB out-aced BSU 8-0 and converted on 76% of their sideout opportunities compared to just 50% for Ball State). 

• Through the Quad and Into the Gymnasium
UCSB is going streaking. The Gauchos have won five straight matches, which is the longest overall winning streak for the program since 2016 (six straight, 3/26-4/16). The blue-and-gold have also reeled off 10 consecutive games, also the program's best since 2016 (10, 1/8-15). UCSB has the third-longest active winning streak in the NCAA right now among D-I teams behind LBSU (17) and BYU (12). A big part of that success can be attributed to UCSB hitting over .300 (Gauchos are 6-1 when finishing over .300) and out-blocking the opposition (UCSB is 8-0 when winning the blocking battle) in each of the last four matches.

• Drake Named Big West Defensive Player of the Week
Junior middle blocker Connor Drake picked up his first career Big West Defensive Player of the Week honor on Monday after leading the team at the net in last week's wins. Drake had six blocks against Fort Wayne – twice as many as any other player on the floor – and was no slouch on offense either, notching 10 kills on .368 hitting. He added three blocks against Ball State, to bring his average for the week up to 1.5 per set, while needing just eight swings to log five kills. Drake is UCSB's fifth Big West weekly award winner in 2018.

• Block Party
Thanks to a surge at the net over the last six matches that has seen them average over three blocks per set, UCSB has rocketed to the top of the conference leaderboard in blocking while ranking fourth nationally at 2.63 roofs per set. Were the season to end today, that rate would be the highest for the program since 2014's 3.01 blocks per set ratio, a 25-point rally era school record. 

• Monsters in the Middle
At the center of that strong performance in the blocking department are Drake and sophomore middle Brandon Hopper, who have been getting it done on both sides of the ball. UCSB is the only Big West school that boasts a duo which ranks in the top-10 in both hitting percentage and blocking, the most-used indicators of a middle blocker's success. Drake ranks eighth in the league with a .368 hitting percentage and fourth with a team-best 1.05 blocks per set average while Hopper comes in seventh with a 1.0 block per set average and 10th with a .331 attacking clip. 

• Rank and File
UCSB appeared in the AVCA Division I-II national poll for the eighth consecutive time this week, moving up to No. 12 after being placed at No. 14 last week. Long Beach State, the preseason No. 2, has been the top-ranked team in the nation for nine straight weeks. The Gauchos have played eight matches this season against top-10 teams – including a stretch of seven straight at one point – going 4-4 in those contests. 

• Sanders Succeeds on the Right Side
A freshman All-American (2.22 K/S, .373 hitting percentage) as a middle blocker in 2017, sophomore Keenan Sanders has made a successful transition to the right side this season, posting 4.27 kills per set since his season debut on Jan. 25. He has led the Gauchos in kills in eight of the last nine matches, including a trio of 20-kill performances highlighted by a career-high 24-kill outing against Lewis on Jan. 27. The San Diego native has been named Big West Player of the Week twice this year.

• Big West Doesn't Miss A Beat
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 .703 combined winning percentage, which is almost 100 points higher than the next-best conference (MIVA: .610). 

• 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 .627 winning percentage, highest in the country. UCSB is one of just six schools nationwide with an opponents' winning percentage north of 60%. 

• Chavers Stepping Up 
Junior OH Corey Chavers is in the midst of a breakout season for the Gauchos, ranking in the top-10 in the Big West in both kills (3.37 per set, ninth) and aces (0.44, fifth). He has multiple aces in five of the last seven matches including a career-best five against Fort Wayne, equaled a career-high with seven blocks on Mar. 1 against USC, and has a pair of 20-kill performances under his belt including a career-high 24 at then-No. 10 Pepperdine on Jan. 20. The Gauchos are 7-3 this season when Chavers has 10+ kills.

• Yould Be Sorry You Swung Towards Him
Grady Yould has transitioned seamlessly into the starting libero spot for the Gauchos, boasting a 2.50 digs per set rate that leads the league and ranks 12th in the nation. His 18 digs on Mar. 2 against UCSD equaled a career-best and set a new single-match high for any Big West player. He has just three reception errors over the last five matches. 

• DeWeese Does it All
A sophomore standing 6-6, Randy DeWeese is impacting the match with more than just his setting. His 0.44 aces per set rank fifth in the league, he has chipped multiple kills in five straight, is hitting .483, and has the most blocks (46) on the team. He's been solid in the back-row as well, recording four 10+ dig matches to give him a team-high four double-doubles on the campaign. His modest 8.58 assists per set average jumps to 10.14  – which would rank fourth in the Big West – when discounting the two matches this season he didn't start. 

• California Boys
As is usually the case, the 2018 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.