The No. 8 Gauchos once again took the first set against visiting No. 5 UCLA, and again the Bruins were able to mount a furious comeback in a four set victory on Friday night at Rob Gym, defeating UCSB for the second time this month.
The Gauchos (3-3, 1-2 MPSF) have now lost consecutive matches for the first time this season, while UCLA (6-3, 2-1) broke a two match losing streak with the victory.
Game scores for the match went 21-15, 25-17, 25-17, 25-19.
UCSB started off the match well enough, hitting .391 and serving strongly in the first game. Senior middle blocker Dylan Davis had three kills on four swings and pressured UCLA’s back row with a pair of jump serve aces. Sophomore outside Austin Kingi added three kills, while freshman setter Jonah Seif picked up an ace and nine assists. In a fairly wide open set – UCLA hit .320 as well – the first and only block of the set proved to be pivotal. With UCLA down 23-20 and coming off a timeout, sophomore opposite Matt Marsh and freshman middle Ryan Hardy teamed up to block a swing from Robart Page – just one of two errors from Page in the match – to give the Gauchos a dominating 24-20 lead. A UCLA service error would give UCSB a 1-0 lead.
The clear difference between set one and sets two through four was the quality of the two teams’ passing. Through the first game, UCLA had three reception errors while UCSB had just one. Over the rest of the match, the Gauchos would pick up seven additional errors while the Bruins had just one. When serve receives were not botched, UCLA’s passes to setter Connor Bannan were crisp, while UCSB’s passes often sent freshman setters Jonah Seif and Andrew Kocur to all areas of the court in an attempt to salvage an attack.
UCLA’s passing led to more rhythm for the offense, as Page put down 13 kills in the final three games (15 overall), while Gonzalo Quiroga (12 kills total) and Kene Izuchukwu (14 kills overall) also gave the Gauchos fits.
UCSB’s Matt Marsh maintained a high level of play throughout the match, topping all players with 16 kills on a .394 hitting percentage. He accounted for almost all of UCSB’s kills in the second game, putting down seven of the team’s 11. However, Every UCSB starter besides Marsh and Davis was substituted for at some point in the match as head coach Rick McLaughlin tried to find an effective lineup to combat the Bruins. By the end, a season-high 13 players entered the match for the Gauchos.
Miles Evans, in his first action since the opening match of the season, recorded three kills on eight swings. Davis finished with six kills and a .667 hitting percentage, but was only set nine times, his lowest swing per set average so far this season.
Junior libero Chad Kingi led the Gauchos with nine digs, and was the only primary pass receiver who didn’t record a reception error.
UCLA’s back row was anchored by libero Evan Mottram, who had a match-high 14 digs. Middle blockers Clayton Paullin and Spencer Rowe each had four blocks, and were a vital part of the match after being shut out in the first set. Besides their blocking exploits, the two teamed up for 14 kills on the quick attack.
“We have a lot to work on,” said McLaughlin after the match. “UCLA outpassed us and outserved us, and when that happens, you don’t usually win.”
Next up, the Gauchos will travel on their first road trip of the season, heading north to take on the University of the Pacific Tigers and Stanford Cardinal.