Gauchos Lead Early, But Fall to No. 1 LBSU 3-1

Jack Truman (photo by Eric Isaacs)
Jack Truman (photo by Eric Isaacs)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – No. 12 UC Santa Barbara became just the second team in 2018 to take a 1-0 lead against No. 1 Long Beach State by virtue of a game one win, but the Gauchos ultimately couldn't sustain that early momentum in an eventual 3-1 loss on Friday night at Rob Gym; 24-26, 25-15, 25-14, 25-20. 

With the win, top-ranked LBSU maintained their undefeated record at 19-0, 4-0 Big West. UCSB saw its record drop to 9-7, 2-2. The two teams faced off against each other as well on Thursday night at the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, with the 49ers pulling off a 3-0 sweep. 

UCSB was led on offense by redshirt freshman Jack Truman, who needed just 17 swings to record a co-team-high 11 kills. Sophomore opposite Keenan Sanders notched 11 kills and 11 digs for his second consecutive double-double. With nine kills apiece, left side hitters Roy McFarland and Corey Chavers just missed double digits. 

The 49ers meanwhile were led by the pin tandem of outside hitter TJ DeFalco and opposite Kyle Ensing, who recorded identical lines of 15 kills on 33 swings. The visitors outhit UCSB .456 to .190 for the match. 

In front of a packed crowd at Rob, UCSB eked out a gritty first-set win, as the Gauchos and 49ers were neck and neck practically the whole way. UCSB kept the pressure on early with solid serving – the Gauchos had just one service error in the first – taking an 11-9 lead on a roof of a right-sided swing from reigning AVCA National Player of the Year TJ DeFalco. From there, LBSU went on a 4-1 run to take its first lead of the match and set up a see-saw battle down the stretch.

A Sanders kill from the right side to make it 20-19 proved crucial, as UCSB would hold a one-point lead or tie the rest of the way. UCSB sophomore setter Casey McGarry effectively used his middles at the end of the set, feeding Connor Drake (five kills overall) and Truman to set up three back-to-back set points for the Gauchos, who eventually capitalized as McFarland slammed down an overpass to cap off a long rally and clinch the game. 

The early deficit marked just the second time this season that LBSU, which had only dropped three sets all year entering the match, found itself trailing in a match. 

Unfortunately for UCSB, the 49ers would go on to find their mojo in the contest's final three sets. Apparently unfazed by the first-set loss, LBSU went on to hit .406 in the second set and rode five kills from DeFalco on eight swings to tie the match at one all. 

LBSU was even better in the third, jumping out to a 10-5 lead early and eventually hitting .667 for the frame with all six players on the court recording multiple kills and no errors. The 49ers frustrated the Gauchos to the tune of 4.5 blocks in the fourth and final set, receiving five kills on nine swings from Ensing to close it out. The set was fairly close until the end, with the 49ers turning a one-point lead into a comfortable 20-16 advantage on a quick hit from middle Nick Amado and back-to-back blocks from Amado and Ensing. 

UCSB will not play any matches next week as the team takes final exams. The Gauchos are next in action on Wednesday, Mar. 28 at UCLA before taking on Big West rival CSUN in a home-and-home series that Friday and Saturday.