MVB: Pepperdine rallies to catch UCSB in five

The fourth-ranked UC Santa Barbara Gauchos were stunned at home by fifth-ranked Pepperdine (25-22, 21-25, 25-18, 21-25, 12-15) in front of nearly 500 faithful, but not without first having four players reach career, and even all-program, numbers. The Gauchos fall to 13-6, 12-6 MPSF while the Waves improve to 12-5, 12-5 MPSF.

Libero Chad Kingi set a career-high in digs (19), Jonah Seif had a career-night in assists (56), Matt Hanley tied his previous career-best in kills (20), and Evan Licht was one service ace shy of the UCSB all-program record with seven on the night.

Licht joins historic company within the Gaucho program with the first seven ace match since Jake Rosener completed the feat back in March 2009 also against Pepperdine. Licht, Rosener, and Evan Patak stand as the only members of UCSB men’s volleyball to hit seven or more aces in a match. Patak holds the record with eight aces, hitting 255 total over the course of his career.

Serving early with a vengeance, Licht smoked his first ace on only his second serve, forcing a cautionary Pepperdine timeout. Unfazed, Licht immediately drilled another ace then tacked on a kill for the following point as part of a 6-1 point run in the first set. He hit a pair of aces in the second set and another in the third. Unfinished with his performance, Licht returned to his strong form in the fourth set with another 3 point burst, starting with a kill then another pair of aces to put the Gauchos up 4-2, despite starting down 0-2. Later in the set, he again pulled the Gauchos ahead with back to back service aces.

As well, numerous other Gauchos nailed strong serves to force Pepperdine’s defenders to mishandle returns for easy UCSB kills.

UCSB put together a solid defensive night by relying on the digs, only managing 6 total blocks on the night. Leading the defense was Chad Kingi with his career-best 19 digs followed by Licht with eight and both Jonah Seif and Matt Hanley with seven. Seif laid-out for an incredible dig in the first set leading to a Gaucho kill to reach a 24-20 lead before an opposing block and subsequent service error gave the Gauchos the first set win. Likewise, Jake Staahl went full extension on a dig late in the third set, landing with a hard thud, but again enabled a UCSB point. In addition, Chad Kingi refused to quit in the fifth set, pulling out a dig off a Gaucho block attempt that, you guessed it, led to a UCSB kill. The team nabbed 50 digs overall.

Offensively, Hanley, Austin Kingi, Staahl, and Licht all had triple digit kill numbers on the night. Hanley tied his previous career-high in kills (20) set against UC San Diego. He started the first set with an impressive five kills, following up with an additional five in the second, four in the third, and three apiece in the fourth and fifth set. Evan Licht likewise hit five kills in the first set with another six in the third set for a match total of 18. Austin Kingi pounded 11 kills for the match while Staahl tagged 10 kills off 13 swings, hitting .769 clip. Kingi was also responsible for the only other service ace on the night.

With this loss the Gauchos snap their season-best four game win streak but aim to regroup on the road against Cal Baptist March 26 before continuing on to face BYU March 28.