Gauchos Kick Off MPSF Play Against Long Beach State, CSUN

Evan Licht (Photo by Tony Mastres)

• The Schedule
Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
No. 9 UC Santa Barbara (2-1) vs. No. 6 Long Beach State (2-1)
at Rob Gym
Series record vs. the 49ers – 46-42
Streak vs the 49ers – Lost 2
UCSB Streak Overall – Won 2
LBSU Streak Overall – Won 1
Last time out vs. the 49ers – L, 3-2 (3/2/12)

Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
No. 9 UC Santa Barbara (2-1) vs. No. 11 Cal State Northridge (0-0)
at the Matadome in Northridge, Calif.
Series record vs. the Matadors – 47-37
Streak vs. the Matadors – Lost 1
UCSB Streak Overall – Won 2
CSUN Streak Overall – N/A
Last time out vs. the Matadors – L, 3-2 (2/29/2012)

• The UCSB asics Invitational in Review
The Gauchos finished the asics Invitational with a respectable 2-1 record, losing to No. 6 UCLA (who were tournament runners-up) before beating a pair of preseason Top-10 teams in Lewis and Loyola in decisive fashion. UCSB ended the tournament with a six set win streak, sweeping both of their MIVA opponents. UC Irvine won the tournament for the second year in a row, while Long Beach State claimed third place following a victory over a surprisingly resilient UC San Diego. Dylan Davis was named to the All-Tournament team, while UCI's Colin Mehring took home MVP honors. UC Santa Barbara did not technically place, as the fifth and seventh place matches were reorganized so that Lewis and Loyola (both from the Chicago area and conference rivals) would not have to play each other as part of the tournament.

• Good First Impression
In some cases, it takes a long time for setters to develop chemistry with their hitters. If the UCSB Invitational is any indication, it looks like the Gauchos have plenty of chemistry with a pair of newcomers already. Freshman Jonah Seif recorded 79 assists in two matches - just under 10 per set - while coming close to a double-double against UCLA with nine digs. Fellow freshman Andrew Kocur picked up 33 assists against Loyola - just over 10 per set - and contributed four blocks, including a solo, in the victory. Redshirt freshman middle blocker Ryan Hardy showed that a year on the sidelines helped his game, as he led the Gauchos with 13 kills and an astronomical .688 hitting percentage against UCLA.

• Variety is the Spice of Life
Perhaps the most impressive part of UCSB's asics performance was that they had a different top attacker in each match. If a player not named Hardy, Marsh, or Kingi tops the Gauchos in their next match, the 2013 squad will already match the 2012 team that had a different top attacker in four matches from Mar. 2 - Mar. 14.

• Poll Vaulters
After debuting at No. 13 in the AVCA preseason poll, the Gauchos jumped four spots to No. 9 in the first regular season poll of the season, which was the largest jump of any school in the poll. It is the first time they have been in the Top-10 since the final poll of the 2011 season.

• Davis Ready to Lead
Senior middle blocker Dylan Davis – the sole starter remaining from the 2011 squad that won the MPSF Championship – figures to play a prominent role in the Gauchos fortunes this season. The Newport Beach, Calif. native was one of just four middles in the nation to be selected to Off the Block's 2013 Preseason All-American team. Davis led the Gauchos in blocking in 2012 with 1.16 stuffs per game, hit .344 and one was one of just three UCSB players to appear in every match. Davis is prone to statistical outbursts, as he holds the school record for block assists in a match (13 at CSUN on Feb. 29, 2012) and the NCAA tournament record for hitting percentage in a match (.882 vs USC on May 5, 2011).

• Hello Again
The 2013 Gauchos squad will look very familiar to the 2012 iteration, as six of seven starters return. Overall, 13 letterwinners will return, while Rick McLaughlin lost just one player to graduation in Blaine Nielsen. With five fourth-year players, this is the most senior laden team UCSB has fielded during Rick McLaughlin's tenure besides the outlier year of 2011.

• Under the Radar Evans
Senior outside hitter Miles Evans quietly put together one of the better seasons from an outside hitter in the country in 2012, leading his squad by significant margins in kills (325), kill average (3.46 per game), attacks (729), and points (370.0), while placing second in digs  (164), aces (15), and blocks (56). The Gauchos will need another solid all-around campaign from Evans to compete in 2013.