Gauchos Advance to Big West Tournament Semifinals Behind Thrilling Five-Set Win

Photo by Hawaii Media Source
Photo by Hawaii Media Source

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HONOLULU, Hawaii – With its season hanging in the balance, the No. 4 seeded UC Santa Barbara men's volleyball team rallied from a 2-1 deficit to defeat No. 5 CSUN 3-2 (25-16, 25-27, 26-28, 25-13, 15-9) on Thursday night at the Stan Sheriff Center to advance to the Big West Tournament Semifinals against No. 1 Long Beach State on Friday night.

It was the second time this season the Gauchos (18-9) found themselves in a 2-1 hole against the Matadors (13-14) and the second time they dominated the fourth and fifth sets to pull out the win.

"Kind of a streaky match for both sides," said head coach Rick McLaughlin. "Both teams got hot at different times and that's how we've pretty much played against Northridge the whole year. They can get their serving hot and we can get ours hot and usually it doesn't happen at the same time. We got ours hot a little bit more than them and our guys did what it took to come back and get the win, and I'm happy for them. They've worked hard all year and we want another shot to play Long Beach."

Keenan Sanders was a force to be reckoned with at the net, as was the entire UCSB team, who combined for a season-high 32 total blocks, with Sanders accounting for 12 of them, a career-high. CSUN, meanwhile, had just three blocks on the night and hit .227 (57-25-141) while Santa Barbara was clicking on offense throughout the match with a .398 hitting percentage (65-14-128).

Honolulu native and Big West Freshman of the Year Ryan Wilcox delighted much of his hometown fans with a team-high 15 kills on .419 hitting (15-2-31) while adding six digs and six blocks in a strong all-around performance.

Speaking of all-around performances, Randy DeWeese did a little bit of everything to spearhead the UCSB comeback. The junior setter distributed a career-high 58 assists to put four different players in double figures with kills while adding six blocks, four digs, two kills and two service aces.

After Santa Barbara rolled past CSUN 25-16 in the opening set, the Matadors responded by edging out the Gauchos in extras in both the second (27-25) and third (28-26) sets.

UCSB came out on a mission in the fourth game, hitting .632 (12-0-19) with no attacking errors to even the score and force a decisive fifth set. Spencer Fredrick, who finished with 13 kills, eight digs and three blocks, was instrumental in the hot start to the fourth, sparking a 9-4 run with a pair of electrifying kills. Corey Chavers added three of his 14 kills in the fourth set, adding the punctuation to the 25-13 rout with a kill that deflected off the block and out of bounds.

The Gauchos dropped the first point of the final set, but changed the momentum in the blink of an eye with five consecutive kills from four different players to take a 5-1 lead. Sanders, Chavers, Fredrick, Brandon Hopper and Fredrick again, all slammed down kills set up from DeWeese, and a CSUN attacking error soon made it 6-1. The UCSB lead ballooned to 11-3 after kills from Hopper, Wilcox and Fredrick, and after weathering a four-point spurt from the Matadors, Sanders closed the door with the final kill.

Hayden Boehle bolstered the defense from the back row with a game-high 15 digs while Sanders, along with Wilcox, Chavers, and Fredrick, was the fourth Gaucho in double-figures with 12 kills for the double-double. Hopper finished with nine kills on the night and Chavers and Fredrick recorded eight digs apiece.

Ksawery Tomsia led CSUN with a game-high 19 kills while setter Taylor Ittner added a 45-assist, 14-dig double-double.

No. 4 UCSB will square off against No. 1 Long Beach State Friday, Apr. 19 at 8:00 p.m. PT / 5:00 p.m. HT in the Big West Tournament Semifinals. The winner will play either No. 2 Hawai'i or No. 3 UC Irvine, who swept No. 6 UC San Diego, in the tournament final on Saturday, Apr. 20.