No. 11 Gauchos Look to Enter Playoff Picture at Season's Midway Point

Blaine Nielsen (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Blaine Nielsen (Photo by Tony Mastres)

• The Schedule

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 7 p.m. PST
No. 11 UC Santa Barbara (5-9, 3-7)
at No. 14 Cal State Northridge (5-9, 3-7)
Series record vs. the Matadors- 47-36
Streak- Won 5
2011 Series- UCSB 3-0
2012 Series- UCSB 2-0
Last time out vs. the Matadors- W, 3-0

Friday, March 2, 2012 at 7 p.m. PST
No. 11 UC Santa Barbara (5-9, 3-7)
vs. No. 8 Long Beach State (8-7, 4-5)
Series record vs. the 49ers- 45-39
Streak- Lost 1
2011 Series- LBSU 2-1
2012 Series- LBSU 1-0
Last time out vs. the 49ers- L, 3-1

• Can't Make it to the Court?

UCSB men's volleyball matches can be followed live online for no charge with Presto Sport's
"Primetime" app. For home matches, log on to, go to the men's volleyball
schedule, and click on the"live stats' link for the match you're interested in. You can follow each point and see player statistics and bios. Live stats for Wednesday's away match against Cal State Northridge can found at this link or on the Men's Volleyball schedule page.

• The Week in Review

The Gauchos were able to earn a split in their weekend series in Provo, Ut. against the third-ranked BYU Cougars. Friday night's loss was brought about in large part due to the team-blocking of BYU. UCSB was outblocked 19.5 to 9.0 and were held to a lowly .105 hitting percentage for the match- their second lowest team hitting percentage for a single match this season. Saturday night's upset was a coming-out party for freshman outside hitter Austin Kingi, who led all players with a career-high 18 kills. Austin, in just his second career match, was one of three Gauchos to record 15 or more kills-Miles Evans had 15, while Kevin Donohue had 16. Libero Chad Kingi recorded 23 digs over the weekend. The Gauchos have won two of their last three matches at BYU.

• Scouting the Matadors
The Matadors, who are tied with the Gauchos for the eighth and final playoff spot in the MPSF standings, are led by freshman opposite Julius Hoefer. The German import leads his team in kills with 151, and is just one behind Drew Staker's team leading 42 blocks. Hoefer has a combined 24 kills in his two matches against UCSB so far this season. Matt Stork, second on the team with 113 kills, was held to two kills against UCSB on Feb. 15 after leading his team with 17 kills on Jan. 6 in the first match-up between the two teams. Freshman libero Sina Aghassy leads the team with 64 digs. Cal State Northridge has had inconsistent play from their setters, as starter Filip Tomicic has surrendered playing time to both Travis Magorien (20 games) and Danny Rodrick (16 games).


• Scouting the 49ers

Long Beach State, who was one of the victims in UCSB's run through the MPSF and NCAA playoffs last season, are currently the seventh seed in the conference with their 4-6 record. Despite ranking ninth in the conference in blocks per game with 2.19, they are third in the MPSF in opponent's hitting percentage at .250-reflecting their strength at the net. A strong serving team, they are second in the conference in aces, as top two servers Taylor Crabb and Jim Baughman have combined for 33 of the team's 74 aces. Crabb leads the team in kills with 167, while Baughman isn't far behind with 149, despite playing in six less games. Crabb also leads the team with 109 digs, and Jeff Ornee leads the team in blocking- recording 56 total blocks in 57 games.

• Fresh Faced Gauchos

In contrast to last year's senior-heavy and rarely changing lineup, this
year's lineup features just one senior and one starting returner. Head
Coach Rick McLaughlin rarely strayed from his starting seven last year,
but 13 different players have started a match already this year for the
Gauchos. A season-high 11 Gauchos entered the match on Feb. 1
against USC. This year's sole returning starter, Dylan Davis, has done
much to cement his role. Dylan leads the team in total blocks (48) and
is third on the team in kills (74). The sole senior, Blaine Nielsen, serves
as the team captain and is fourth on the team in kills (46).

• Brotherly Love

This year's team features two sets of brothers: Chad & Austin Kingi and Blaine & Weston Nielsen. Though the four of them have not seen action in the same match so far this season, all have contributed in their time on the floor. Chad Kingi and Blaine Nielsen regularly see playing time, while Austin had 25 kills last weekend in his UCSB debut. Weston Nielsen, who has seen time at outside hitter and libero, has been a solid contributor in the passing game, compiling 1.33 digs per game and a .944 reception percentage.

• Cougar Tamers

The Gauchos are hoping that their upset over BYU last weekend will be the start of a run of success for the team. Austin Kingi's 18 kills represented the highest kill output for any Gaucho this season not named Miles Evans. UCSB had recorded just one double-double all season, but both Kingi (18 kills, 14 digs) and Evans (15 kills, 13 digs) did so on Saturday night. It was also the first time this season that three UCSB hitters recorded 10 or more kills in the same match this season, as Kevin Donohue also had 15 kills. The last time UCSB upset BYU in Utah, in last season's MPSF quarterfinals, it was the start of a four match winning streak that saw the Gauchos reach the cusp of a National Championship.

• I'll Be Here A While

Friday night's match against Cal State Northridge will be the first of a five-match homestand for the Gauchos. Rick McLaughlin's squad will be in Rob Gym on Mar. 2 and 7, and then move to the Thunderdome for their matches on Mar. 9, 14, and 16. All matches will be against MPSF opponents.

• Evans Getting It Done

Junior outside hitter Miles Evans has quickly become the team's go-to
attacking option, having led the squad in kills in 11 of the first 14
matches of the season. Miles, a transfer from Santa Barbara City College,
follows in the footsteps of last year's big hitter, Jeff Menzel, who
was also raised in the Santa Barbara area. Miles recently picked up a
career-high in kills, going off for 20 on Jan. 21 against Stanford in just
four games. Miles has recorded 10 or more kills in 13 of 14 matches this season, and is fourth in the conference with his 3.87 kills per game output.