MVB: Gauchos take BYU to five

No. 8 UC Santa Barbara battled back from a 2-0 set deficit and evened the score in Saturday night’s rematch with No. 4 BYU at Rob Gym, but the Gauchos ultimately weren’t able to complete the comeback effort, falling in five sets (25-20, 25-19, 19-25, 19-25, 15-13).

The loss for the Gauchos (5-3, 1-3 MPSF) came despite outhitting their opponents on the night .246 to .219. BYU improved to 4-2, 3-1 with the win.

Senior opposite Kevin Donohue was the driving force in the UCSB comeback, recording 16 of his match-high 20 kills in the final three games of the match. “Donny” also recorded 10 digs, giving him his second double-double in as many weekends. Senior outside hitter Weston Nielsen was also clutch in the latter half of the match, collecting nine of his 18 kills between sets three and four.

Junior All-American setter Jonah Seif joined Donohue in the double-double club, posting a team-high 13 digs along with 52 assists. Like his teammates, Seif got stronger as the match went on, recording 37 of his assists in the final three stanzas.

Where the Cougars had their biggest advantage was at the net, as they out-blocked the Gauchos 14.5 to nine for the night. This was especially true in the first two games, when BYU racked up nine roofs while holding UCSB to low hitting percentages (.214 and .156, respectively).

The see-saw decisive fifth set saw the Gauchos jump out to a 4-3 lead initially, but a 4-0 BYU run from that point behind the serving of setter Tyler Heap but UCSB back on its heels. The Gauchos clawed back once again from that 7-4 deficit, tying the match at 8-8 behind kills from Donohue and sophomore outside Jacob Delson and a pair of errant attacks from the Cougars.

The teams remained knotted until 11-11, when BYU claimed a final swing of momentum. With Seif providing one of his many hard-struck jump serves of the night – he had four of the team’s five service aces on the night – BYU surrended an overpass on the serve receive. The pass came right to UCSB junior middle blocker Ryan Hardy, but his swing was blocked by Heap.

A wide UCSB attack on the next play allowed the Cougars to trade sideouts to a 15-13 win in set five.

On the other side of the net, BYU was led by outside hitter Jake Langlois, who had a team-best 17 kills. Senior middle blocker Michael Hatch once again had a strong match against the Gauchos, leading all players with 10 blocks while adding six kills. Libero Jaylen Reyes recorded 11 digs and was a key component of a strong passing night for the Cougars.

After struggling to find a way through BYU’s blocking schemes in the first two sets, UCSB began to find an offensive rhythm in the third.

The Gauchos jumped out to a 6-2 lead to start the third, highlighted by another ace from Seif. The two teams traded small runs for a while until back-to-back blocks from Hardy, the latter assisted by Donohue, gave UCSB a comfortable 14-8 lead. Nielsen clinched the set with his fifth kill of the frame. Despite being down 2-0, the Gauchos dominated the middle game, leading from the first point to the last.

Though it took them a bit longer to separate themselves, the Gauchos were just as potent in game number four. Tied at 6-6, Donohue kick-started a 10-4 run that was highlighted by a Nielsen service ace and a big kill from Donohue that made that it 16-10, forcing a BYU timeout. UCSB more or less maintained that six-point advantage, with Delson ending the game on a seeing-eye back row swing. The Gauchos hit a match-best .423 in the fourth.

UCSB will conclude its four-match home stand by hosting Pepperdine and Stanford next Friday and Saturday, respectively. Both matches are slated for 7:00 p.m. starts.