No. 11 Gauchos Battle Local Rivals, Top-10 Squads in No. 3 UCLA, No. 8 CSUN

Grady Yould (photo by Eric Isaacs)
Grady Yould (photo by Eric Isaacs)

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• The Schedule
Wednesday, March 28 at 7:00 PM PT
No. 11 UCSB vs. No. 3 UCLA (19-5, 7-2 MPSF)
Pauley Pavillion in Los Angeles, Calif. 
TV: UCLA Live Stream
All-time Record / Streak vs. the Bruins – 37-125 / Lost 4
Overall / away record vs. UCLA in McLaughlin era: 8-13 / 3-6
UCLA Streak / Last 10 – Won 4 / 6-4
UCSB Streak / Last 10 – Lost 2 / 6-4
Last time out: UCLA 3-0 UCSB (2/27/17 @ UCSB)

Friday, Mar. 30 at 7:00 PM PT at the Matadome in Northridge, Calif.
Saturday, Mar. 31 at 7:00 PM PT at Rob Gym in Santa Barbara, Calif.
No. 11 UCSB vs. No. 8 CSUN (12-7, 2-2 Big West)
TV: Big West TV
All-time Record / Streak vs. the Matadors – 53-40 / Won 4
Overall record vs. CSUN in McLaughlin era: 11-10
CSUN Streak / Last 10 – Won 4 / 6-4
UCSB Streak / Last 10 – Lost 2 / 6-4
Last time out: UCSB 3-0 CSUN (3/8/17 @ UCSB)

• The Week Ahead
This week, UCSB treks south for a Wednesday matchup against No. 3 UCLA at Pauley Pavillion before taking on No. 8 CSUN in a home-and-home series over the weekend, with the Gauchos at the Matadome on Friday and back at home at Rob on Saturday. Since the 2014 season, UCSB is 4-5 against the Bruins and 5-2 against the Matadors. This will be UCSB's first matchup against either team in 2018. 

• The Week in Review
UCSB had last week off as the student body underwent final examinations. The Gauchos were last in action on Mar. 15 and 16, losing both ends of a home-and-home with top-ranked and undefeated Long Beach State in Big West action. The losses snapped a five-match winning streak for UCSB, which was a season-best and the third-longest active streak among Division I schools. UCSB won the first opening set against LBSU at Rob Gym on Mar. 16, becoming just the third team this season to take a game from the 49ers and just the second to take a 1-0 lead. 

• 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 4.09 kills per set since his season debut on Jan. 25, good for fourth in the league. He has led the Gauchos in kills in 10 of the last 11 matches, including a trio of 20-kill performances highlighted by a career-high 24-kill outing against Lewis on Jan. 27. He has rounded out his back-row play as well, posting double-digit digs in the last two matches for the first two double-doubles of his career. The San Diego native has been named Big West Player of the Week twice in 2018.

• Block Party
Thanks to a surge at the net over the past month that has seen them average over three blocks per set, UCSB has risen to third in the conference and 10th nationally at 2.45 blocks per set. 

• Monsters in the Middle
Key to that strong performance in the blocking department are the duo of Connor Drake and Brandon Hopper, who have been getting it done on both sides of the ball. Named Big West Defensive Player of the Week on Mar. 12, Drake leads the team and is sixth in the league with a 0.98 blocks per set average while he also ranks ninth in the Big West with a .355 hitting percentage. Hopper has equaled Drake in the block column so far this season – making UCSB the only Big West school with two players in the top-seven for blocking – and is just outside the conference's top-10 for hitting percentage (.323, .003 behind No. 10), which would have made UCSB the only Big West program with two players in the top-10 in both blocking and hitting percentage. 

• Rank and File
UCSB appeared in the AVCA Division I-II national poll for the 10th consecutive time this week, staying at a season-high No. 11 for the second straight week This week's opponents are both ranked in the top-10: UCLA at No. 3 and CSUN at No. 8. The Gauchos have played 10 matches this season against top-10 teams – including a stretch of seven straight at one point – going 4-6 in those contests. 

• 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 .681 combined winning percentage, which is almost 100 points higher than the next-best conference (MIVA: .587) and has also has the highest percentage of over-.500 teams (5-6, 83%). 

• 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 .622 winning percentage, highest in the country. UCSB is one of just five schools nationwide with an opponents' winning percentage north of 60%. Including this week's contests, UCSB has played a top-10 opponent in 72% of its matches this season (13-18). 

• Yould Be Sorry You Swung Towards Him
Grady Yould has transitioned seamlessly into the starting libero spot for the Gauchos, boasting a 2.47 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 five reception errors over the last seven matches. 

• Seeing Double
Sanders' pair of 10+ kill, 10+ dig outings against No. 1 LBSU last week made him the newest entrant into UCSB's double-double club, joining sophomore setter Randy DeWeese who has four double-double performances. Most notably, DeWeese set season highs with 52 assists and 13 digs against UC San Diego on Feb. 23. 

• The Truman Show
Freshman middle Jack Truman seemed to thrive last week despite facing the top team in the country, notching 11 kills on 17 swings (.588 hitting) Saturday to record his most productive offensive performance since his historic season debut against St. Francis on Jan. 5 (15 kills on 21 swings – McLaughlin era UCSB record for debut kills, just the third UCSB MB since 2009 to land 15+ kills). He showed a preview of what was to come the night before against LBSU, notching two kills on two swings in one set of action. 

• McFarland Taking Advantage of Increased Role
Sophomore outside hitter Roy McFarland has begun to take advantage of an increased role in the offense over the last four matches, notching 31 kills (2.38 per set) over that span, second-most on the team behind Sanders. That includes a 10 kill (.208 hitting) outing against LBSU on Mar. 15, his first double-digit kill performance since Jan. 20. A solid server, UCSB is 7-2 this season when he records an ace. 

• 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.