UC Santa Barbara sweeps UCLA for first time in more than 25 years
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- After suffering a deflating loss at Pauley Pavillion in January that halted a season-opening five-match winning streak, UC Santa Barbara got its revenge on Wednesday night, recording a historic sweep (25-20, 25-19, 25-20) against visiting UCLA at Rob Gym.
It was the program's first sweep of UCLA since April 28, 1988, more than 25 years ago. UCSB improved to 11-5, 10-5 on the season, pulling even with the Bruins in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings. UCLA, losers of three consecutive matches, dropped to 13-6 on the year.
The Gauchos now hold an 8-1 record at Rob Gym this season, extending their best start to a home schedule in the MPSF era (since 1993).
Senior opposite Evan Licht acknowledged that the loss to UCLA earlier in the season was on the team's mind before the matchup.
"The result we got down at Pauley definitely left a sour taste in our mouth," Licht said. "We knew we could beat this team and that's what we focused on achieving here [Wednesday night]."
The Gauchos outperformed UCLA in nearly every measurable statistic on Wednesday, finishing with sizable advantages in kills (42 to 34), hitting percentage (.429 -.269) aces (6-2), digs (27-20) and blocks (8-5). The team's attacking clip was its highest this season, topping the previous best of .397 established just last week against UCSD.
"We had a lot of guys play very well in all aspects of the game," UCSB head coach Rick McLaughlin said. "We won the serving and passing battles, and you're usually going to be successful when you accomplish that."
Junior outside hitter Weston Nielsen led the Gauchos early, notching five kills apiece in the first two sets and finishing with a match-high 13. Just behind Nielsen was Licht, who got better as the match went along, collecting nine of his 12 kills in Games 2 and 3 and leading the UCSB serving blitz with three aces.
UCSB's middles were at their best in efficiency against the Bruins, as junior Jake Staahl and senior Ryan Thompson combined for 11 kills on just 19 swings. Thompson's five blocks led all players.
Licht provided a preview of what was to come in the match at the very start, as he keyed the Gauchos to a 6-2 advantage in the first set with an ace and a kill. UCLA clawed back behind strong play from Argentine outside hitter Gonzalo Quiroga -- who finished with a team-high 12 kills -- to go ahead 13-11. Nielsen then dealt his only ace of the day to tie the score at 13 and swing momentum back in UCSB's favor. The Gauchos end the set on a 14-7 roll, eventually winning game one on an errant Quiroga swing.
The Gauchos continued to play well in the middle frame, hitting .455 as a team, but UCLA hung on and kept it close at 17-16 UCSB. Nielsen and Licht then produced an 8-3 run from the service line to close the set, culminating in a set-clinching smash of an over pass from Thompson.
UCLA head coach John Speraw inserted two new players into the match to try and spark the team in the third set, but another momentous 11-6 UCSB run tempered all hopes of a UCLA comeback.
In the victory, the Gauchos did an impressive job of limiting 7-foot All-American outside hitter Robart Page, who had just eight kills on 27 attempts. Besides Quiroga and Page, no UCLA attacker had more than five kills.
Matt Hanley, who was playing against the team with whom he spent his freshman and sophomore years, contributed in all areas of the game, recording five kills, four digs, a career-high four blocks, and adding to UCSB's strong serves with an ace. Senior libero Chad Kingi had a match-high seven digs, while sophomore setter Jonah Seif tallied 36 assists as the offensive conducter.