MVB: Irvine knocks out Gauchos in five

Returning home after their defeat earlier in the week at UCLA, eighth-ranked UC Santa Barbara was unable to overcome another slow start, falling in five sets to equally ranked No. 8 UC Irvine (25-21, 25-23, 16-25, 22-25, 17-15).

From the onset of the match the Gauchos were unable to match the intensity of UCI, especially in the service game. The Anteaters unleashed four aces in the first set with another five aces in the second for a match total of eleven. Zack La Cavera drove the UCI push with six aces for the match and an additional 16 kills against the Gaucho defense.

However, the Gauchos found their strength in the third set after dropping the first two. UCSB’s strong net presence was critical to their resurgence. The team blocked five and half attacks of their total 14.5 blocks for the match while forcing nine hitting errors. Primarily responsible for the defensive stand was the duo of Junior middle blocker Jake Staahl and sophomore setter Jonah Seif, each with a part in three blocks. Staahl finished the match with credit for nine blocks while Seif had a role in eight blocks.

Offensively UCSB relied on Austin Kingi’s 17 kills for the night. In addition, Staahl pounded seven kills while hitting .545 clip on the night. Evan Licht and Ryan Thompson both slamming eight kills of their own. Thompson finished the night hitting .462 clip.

UCSB cruised to win the third set but faced a greater challenge in the fourth set, yet were able to pull out another set win. The fifth set began with a powerful UCI block reinforced the intensity the Anteaters played at all night. Staahl and Weston Nielson responded with their own block to tie the set at four. Staahl went up for another block on the very next point, this time teaming up with Seif. Undaunted, UCI came back with two blocks of their own, but the Gauchos were able to take a one point lead, 13-12, before an Anteater timeout. Licht’s kill coming out the timeout put the Gauchos at match point before UCI forced critical attacking errors from the UCSB hitters, allowing La Cavera to put down two of his five kills for the set and claim match point. The Anteaters clinched the match with an even stronger block than they started the set with.

It was clear the match was a heartbreaking defeat for the Gauchos, as evidenced by Coach Rick McLaughlin’s absence from the postgame interview. Assistant Coach Cullen Irons reflected the pain of the loss in his mood, tone, and comments, “We came out flat and came out too late. We just gotta be a better team.” Despite the team’s misfortune, Irons emphasized the positives of the match and reiterated that there is much more of the season to be played, “Weston was a great spark for the team. He got us the second two [set] wins for sure. Staahl had nine blocks on the night and had a very high clip. It was good to see him back in the lineup. Austin Kingi is our horse. He performs night in and night out. There is some silver lining there.”

The Gauchos look to refocus for next week’s doubleheader against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors next Thursday and Friday in Rob Gym at 7pm.