Gauchos can’t hold off Stanford in fifth set

The growing pains are really starting to hurt for the young UCSB men’s volleyball team.

“We just haven’t gotten over the hump yet, but hopefully it’ll only make us better… We’re just not confident enough yet, but we’ll get there,” said sophomore sensation Jeff Menzel after Saturday’s heartbreaking 30-26, 26-30, 24-30, 30-21, 15-13 loss to visiting No. 7 Stanford.

The No. 13 Gauchos were up 10-6 in the fifth set but let it slip away on a late service run by Stanford setter Kawika Shoji. UCSB has now gone the distance in five of its last seven matches, winning only one of the 5-setters.

Menzel tied a career-best on the night with 29 kills as UCSB had a very respectable .314 hitting clip. But it was another lesson learned as the Gauchos saw a 2-1 lead turn into a decisive fourth-set loss, leading to a pressure-filled fifth-game letdown.

“The coaches are pushing us, and we know how well we can play. We were up 10-6 and we gave that game away,” said Menzel. “It was our mental game, and we know it.”

Career-highs in kills were also tallied by Cullen Irons (19), Scott Slaughter (18) and Sam Moisenco (14). Sophomore seter Vince Devany notched a career-best with 78 assists.

After splitting the first two sets, the Gauchos (4-9, 2-8 MPSF) held on in the third despite losing an impossibly long rally that Stanford’s Spencer McLachlin ended after a solid 30 seconds of back-and-forth scrapping. McLachlin put away the next point as well to close the Gaucho lead to 23-19, but UCSB didn’t look deflated and closed it out nicely.

That’s when the Gauchos might have gotten a bit too comfortable up 2-1, as McLachlin took over in the fourth, putting down eight of the 12 sets sent his way with no errors as Stanford out-hit the Gauchos .405 to .133 to head into the fifth with the momentum.

Up 10-6 in the fifth, the Gauchos got too cozy again, and couldn’t stop Stanford (9-7, 5-6 MPSF) from roaring back. UCSB committed three hitting errors and allowed a pair of Shoji aces down the stretch.

UCSB embarks on a 4-match road trip before returning to Rob Gym to face George Mason on March 11.