No. 9 UCSB Welcomes Hawai'i to Rob Gym for Pair of MPSF Matchups

Chad Kingi (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Chad Kingi (Photo by Tony Mastres)

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• The Schedule
Thurday, Jan. 30, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
No. 9 UC Santa Barbara (3-2, 2-2) vs. No. 11 Hawai'i (5-2, 3-1)
at Rob Gym
Series record vs. Hawai'i – 33-42
Streak vs. the Rainbow Warriors – Won 5
UCSB Streak Overall – Lost 2
Hawai'i Streak Overall – Won 3
Last time out – W, 3-0 @ Hawai'i (3/30/13)

• The Week In Review
After starting the season with five straight wins – albeit two of those coming in exhibitions – the Gauchos picked up their first two losses of the season on the road at UCLA and at home against defending national champion UC Irvine. A slow start against the Bruins put UCSB in a 2-0 hole in their first road match of the season. Though they led by as many as eight in the third set, UCLA's momentum was too much to overcome, as the Bruins stormed back for a straight set sweep. Back at Rob Gym, the Gauchos went down 2-0 in games once again, but found their mojo en route to winning sets three and four to force a do-or-die fifth. After trading early-set runs, the teams remained tied as late as 15-all, before UCI took the contest on a double-block following a Zack La Cavera kill that made it match point. Austin Kingi had a strong performance against the Anteaters, putting down a season-high 17 kills. Jake Staahl (nine blocks) and Jonah Seif (eight blocks) both had season-best performances at the net against UCI.     

• Happy to be Home
This week's pair of matchups against Hawai'i will mark the end of UCSB's stretch of hosting eight of nine matchups at Rob Gym. The Gauchos' loss to UC Irvine was the first time this season that UCSB had lost even a single set on their home court. Rob has given the Gauchos a marked advantage recently, as they are 14-7 at home since the start of last season (.667 winning percentage) compared to their 4-11 away record over that same time span. The Gauchos haven't lost a home match to the Rainbow Warriors since the 2010 season.  

• Ace Up Their Sleeve
So far in the 2014 season, the Gauchos have flown out the gate as one of the top serving teams in the entire country. They rank fifth in the nation and first in the conference with 1.63 aces per set, while three Gauchos rank among the top-10 in the conference in aces (Seif, fourth at .47 per set, Austin Kingi seventh at .42, and Evan Licht 10th at .32). UCSB has recorded five service aces or more in all but one match this season.

• Consistent Kingi
Junior outside hitter Austin Kingi has been a steady force for the Gauchos in the early going, leading the team in kills (2.95) and points (3.5) per set. Among the team's outsides, he also ranks first in hitting percentage (.305) and aces. Kingi has led the team in kills in three out of five matches, and his career-high four ace performance against Pacific followed by a 15-kill output against then-No. 1 Stanford earned him an MPSF Player of the Week nomination.

• Seif Rounding Out His Game
An All-MPSF selection last year, sophomore setter Jonah Seif has taken steps to use his 6-8 frame to help round out the other areas of his game, and the early returns suggest his efforts have not gone in vain. Already in the top-10 in assists conference-wide, the Thousand Oaks, Calif. native leads all MPSF setter in kills (.53 per set) and blocks (1.05 per set) while ranking second in aces. He was an MPSF Player of the Week nominee after the UCSB Asics Invitational for his 30 assist, four ace, five dig, seven block performance against UCSD.

• Good Start is Paramount
The first set of the match has proved vital in contests featuring the Gauchos this season. So far in 2014, the winner of the first set has gone on to eventually win in each of UCSB's matches, exhibitions included.

• Don't Tread on Me
UC Santa Barbara's conference-leading service game and fourth-ranked net presence (2.74 blockers per game) has led the team to an MPSF-low .186 opponents hitting percentage. UCSB is the only school in the conference to be under a .200 clip.

• Block Party
Tasked with filling the hole left by 2013 All-American Dylan Davis, middle blockers Ryan Thompson, Jake Staahl, and Ryan Hardy have done a more than admirable job at the net so far this season. Thompson has been the leader, ranking in the top-5 in the MPSF in both hitting percentage (fourth, .429) and blocks (fifth, 1.32 per set). Staahl returned from an early season illness this past week to record a career-high nine blocks in the loss to UC Irvine.

• Scouting the Rainbow Warriors
Hawai'i enters this week with a 5-2 record, with nonconference wins coming over No. 12 Ohio State and No. 11 Penn State. In MPSF play, they split a series with Long Beach State before sweeping UCSD twice. Brooke Sedore (74 kills) and Sinisa Zarkovic (76) are their leading offensive options, while MB Taylor Averill is coming off a weekend where he hit .708 against UCSD.