January 6, 2012

Gauchos Split Pair of Matches on Day One of UCSB/asics Invitational

The No. 14 Gauchos split a pair of matches on the first day of the UCSB/asics Invitational Tournament, losing to defending national champions Ohio State and defeating Cal State Northridge. With their 1-1 tournament record, UCSB will battle the BYU Cougars for fifth place tomorrow afternoon.

In their morning match, and regular season debut, the Gauchos went up against a familiar foe in eighth-ranked Ohio State. The two teams clashed for the National Championship last May, with Ohio State ultimately prevailing in a dramatic five-set match.

Though a National Title was not on the line, this rematch had just as many twists and turns as their last meeting. The Buckeyes came out victorious in five sets once again, with game scores of 19-25, 18-25, 25-19, 28-26, 15-9.

UCSB, and specifically senior outside hitter Blaine Nielsen, came out firing in the first set. Nielsen picked up six of his 13 kills in the first set, which led all players for the frame, while maintaining a .750 hitting percentage. Junior outside hitter Miles Evans, who finished with 13 kills as well, chipped in four kills in the set and served the first ace of the season for his team. UCSB was able to hold Ohio State to just a .120 hitting percentage despite not recording a block during the set. The Gauchos collectively hit .462 for the set.

The Gauchos kept up their polished play in the second game, restricting the Buckeyes to a .045 hitting percentage for the set. Freshman outside hitter Kevin Donohue contributed six of his twelve kills in the second frame, and also picked up his first career ace. Junior middle blocker was a force in the middle, picking up three of his team-high eight blocks in the second game.

Things began to turn sour for  the Gauchos in the third, as they collectively hit just .115 while failing to record a team block in the set for the second time in the match. Ohio State outside hitter Shawn Sangrey, who terrorized the Gauchos in the National Championship Match with 30 kills, began to find his form, putting down eight of his match-high 20 kills.

UCSB's play did not improve in the final two games- they recorded negative hitting percentages in both, thanks mostly to OSU's Grayson Overman, who led all players with 11 blocks. OSU needed 28 points to put down the Gauchos in the fourth game, but were able to restrict UCSB to just nine points in the decisive fifth set. The loss was the second time in a row that UCSB had blown a 2-0 set lead, following Wednesday's exhibition defeat to the University of Manitoba Bisons.

Mik Berzins and Michael Henchy also turned in double-digit kills for the Buckeyes (15 and 10, respectively). Berzins also led OSU with eight digs.

In the other morning matches, UCLA topped Cal State Northridge, Long Beach State beat Loyola (Chicago), and UC Irvine knocked off top-ranked BYU. 

The Gauchos were able to find their form in the Nightcap, defeating Cal State Northridge in four games.

The match did not start auspiciously for UCSB, however, as the Matadors were able to jump out to a one-set lead on the strength of a .556 hitting percentage and strong play at the net. Jared Moore led a potent blocking effort for Cal State Northridge, picking up three of his four blocks in the first set. They recorded four blocks in the game as a team.

Things turned around in the second for UCSB, as Miles Evans turned in his strongest set of the night. The Santa Barbara City College transfer recorded seven of his match-high 19 kills, hitting .500 for the frame. Recording just one block as a team in the first game, the Gauchos had five in the second, highlighted by Dylan Davis picking up four of his match-high eight in the set. Sophomore libero Chad Kingi had five of his eight digs in the set. Kingi racked up a total of 22 digs on Friday. Most importantly, Cal State Northridge was held to a .030 hitting percentage, their lowest of the night.

The third set started out disasterously for UCSB, who spotted the Matadors a 7-0 lead to begin the frame. A time-out from UCSB Head Coach Rick McLaughlin led to a huge swing in momentum for the Gauchos, who turned a 7-0 deficit into a 13-13 tie. They did not stop there, however, as they stormed to a set victory on the strength of their serving and blocking. A pair of Blaine Nielsen aces pumped up his team, while the blocking corps secured another four team blocks in the game. A late ace by junior outside hitter Grant Goswiller sealed the Matador's fate. After their initial seven point deficit, the Gauchos went on a 25-13 run to finish the set.

A hard-fought fourth game ultimately proved to be victorious for the Gauchos. A strong game from freshman opposite Chris Hartig, who had six of his 16 kills in the decisive game, pushed the Gauchos to a win. Despite Matador hitters Matt Stork and Julius Hoefer recording five and six kills, respectively, UCSB came out on top when, tied 24-24, a kill by Miles Evans was followed by an attacking error from Stork.

With the loss, Cal State Northridge stands at 0-2 to start the season, and they will play Loyola tomorrow morning in the seventh-place match.

Junior setter Oliver Deutschman recorded 71 assists on the day, despite injuring his ankle in the morning match.

UCSB Head Coach Rick McLaughlin was pleased with his team's resolve, saying "I'm very proud of the way our team responded after losing in five sets to OSU. Every guy on the team stayed positive and believed in each-other regardless of the score or situation. It allowed us to dig ourselves out of a few deep holes in games 3 and 4. We still have much work ahead to reach the level we need to stay competitive in our league, but we made a few small steps tonight."

In the other night matches, BYU defeated Loyola, UC Irvine defeated Long Beach State, and UCLA swept Ohio State. The schedule for tomorrow's matches can be found below.

Saturday, Jan. 7 - all matches at Rob Gym

Match 9: CSUN vs Loyola (11 AM)

Match 10: UCSB vs BYU (1:30 PM)

Match 11: Ohio State vs Long Beach State (4 PM)

Match 12 (Championship) : UC Irvine vs UCLA (6:30 PM)