No. 8 UCSB Hits Road for Top-5 Matchups at USC, Pepperdine

No. 8 UCSB Hits Road for Top-5 Matchups at USC, Pepperdine

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• The Schedule
Thurday, Feb. 6, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
No. 8 UCSB (5-2, 4-2) vs. No. 5 USC (5-3, 4-3)
at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, Calif.
Series record vs. USC – 58-52
Streak vs. the Trojans – Won 2
UCSB Streak Overall – Won 2
USC Streak Overall – Lost 1
Last time out – W, 3-1 @ UCSB (4/10/13)

Saturday, Feb. 6, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
No. 8 UCSB (5-2, 4-2) vs. No. 3 Pepperdine (5-1, 5-1)
at the Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu, Calif.
Series record vs. Pepperdine – 34-64
Streak vs. the Waves – Lost 3
UCSB Streak Overall – Won 2
Pepperdine Streak Overall – Won 1
Last time out – L, 3-1 @ UCSB (4/12/13)

• The Week In Review
After picking up their first two losses of the season, the Gauchos rebounded in a strong way by beating then-No. 11 Hawai'i on consecutive nights. Junior outside hitter Austin Kingi led the team to victory on Thursday night, picking up his first double-double with 13 kills and 10 digs. UCSB's passing was excellent, as they allowed no service aces to the Rainbow Warriors. Middle blocker Ryan Thompson chipped in eight kills as well. Friday's two hour-34 minute marathon match ended in a UCSB win after senior opposite Evan Licht put the team on his back, overcoming a slow start to record a match-high 22 kills, one off his career high. Sophomore Jonah Seif had an inconsistent night setting, but was more than proficient in other areas, scooping a team-high 11 digs while finishing with seven stuffs, including a match-clinching solo block on a Hawai'i dump attempt. Kingi had another strong offensive night, finishing with 11 kills, while junior middle Jake Staahl had one of the stronger matches of his career, recording 10 kills on just 15 swings to go along with seven blocks.   

• Standing Staahl
After battling an illness early in the season, Jake Staahl has delivered on his potential in his return to the lineup. After recording 15 kills, three aces, and 10 blocks against Hawai'i, he was an MPSF Player of the Week nominee. In his last three matches, he has recorded a kill on at least 50% of his attempts. Staahl has also been a force at the net, recording at least seven blocks in two of three matches, including a career-high nine against UC Irvine on Jan. 25.    

• If You're Not (Winning the) First, You're Last
Through the first seven matches of the season, the first set has turned out to be paramount in determining the victor. The winner of the first game has gone on to a 6-1 record in UCSB's matches. Including exhibition matches, the winner of the first game in Gaucho matches has gone 8-1.

• Poll Vaulting
At No. 8 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, the Gauchos are currently tied for their highest ranking this season. They have been No. 8 twice so far this season, in the preseason poll and in week three. The last time UCSB has been ranked seventh or higher was in the final 2013 poll.

• Consistent Kingi
Austin Kingi has been the team's most reliable attacker in 2014, leading the team with 84 kills, the only player on the team to average 3.0 kills per set or more. The Thousand Oaks, Calif. native has led the team in kills in all but two matches, and has reached double-digits in five of the last six matches. In addition, his 10 service aces rank second on the team, just one behind Seif.

• Good Service
Arguably the most noticable improvement in the 2014 squad has been the serving, which currently ranks second in the conference at 1.50 aces per set. UCSB's strong serving and third-ranked block have resulted in an anemic .190 opponents hitting percentage, the only sub-.200 mark in the MPSF. Seif (11 aces) and Kingi (10) lead the Gauchos from the line, while Evan Licht (eight) and Jake Staahl (five) aren't behind.

• Hot Start
With five wins in its first seven matches, UCSB is off to its best start since the 2007 season, when the team went 8-2 out of the gate. Under Rick McLaughlin (since the '09 season), UCSB's best seven-match start was in 2011, when the went 4-3.

• Not Just a Setter
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 primary MPSF setters in blocks (1.04 per set) while ranking second in aces (0.39 per game, sixth best among all MPSF players) and third in kills (0.54 per game).