Gauchos Fall to Pepperdine in Five-Set Heartbreaker

Haotian Xia (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Haotian Xia (Photo by Tony Mastres)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – No. 10 UC Santa Barbara came within one point of a 3-0 sweep, but instead saw visiting No. 5 Pepperdine steal the third set and with it, the momentum, to stun the Gauchos in a five-set heartbreaker, 3-2 (18-25, 19-25, 26-24, 25-18, 15-13) on Wednesday night in Rob Gym.

The loss is the first of the young season for UCSB (3-1), who has split its past 10 meetings with Pepperdine (3-0). Five of those meetings have gone into a decisive fifth set with Pepperdine now holding a 3-2 record over the Gauchos in such games. The Waves are now 4-1 in their past five matches at UCSB, while the Gauchos are looking forward to a rematch on Friday at Pepperdine, where they have won four of the past five meetings.

The Gauchos came out on fire in the first two sets, hitting .458 (13 kills – 2 errors – 24 attacks) in the first followed by .385 (14-4-26) in the second to cruise to 25-18 and 25-19 set wins, respectively.

Freshman Ryan Wilcox was a factor early, with four of his 12 kills in the first set to help the Gauchos create some separation on the scoreboard.

The Waves hit just -.045 (7-8-22) in the first set, but increased their percentage over the next three frames to change the tide of the match.

A crucial third set saw Pepperdine take control early and hold a three-point advantage most of the way. Trailing 15-12, Santa Barbara looked to none other than Corey Chavers, who came through with three straight points after sandwiching a block between two kills to tie the score at 15-15.

The Waves got back-to-back kills from Kaleb Denmark to take the next two points, and after a series of service errors, held a 21-19 advantage.

The Gauchos, once again, rallied for three straight points, highlighted by a Keenan Sanders kill, to take their first lead in the set, 22-21, since the first point of the frame. From there, the teams traded point for point, until with UCSB ahead 24-23, Pepperdine went on a three-point run of its own to spoil the Gauchos' bid for a sweep.

With all of the momentum on its side, Pepperdine hit .370 with 16 kills in the fourth while UCSB, with the wind out of its sails, hit just .038 with eight kills and seven errors. A controversial call midway through the set sparked a 7-1 run for the Waves, who took a 19-11 lead and did not look back.

In the fifth and final set, both teams traded point for point until, with the score tied 7-7, Jack Truman came through with a kill to break the pattern. With the score tied 9-9, Pepperdine pulled away for good with a spurt of three straight points after a pair of attacking errors and a blocking error from UCSB. Sanders and Randy DeWeese gave the Gauchos a glimmer of hope with a big block to cut the score to 14-13, but a Michael Wexter kill from the Waves capped off the comeback.

Wilcox and Chavers led UCSB with 12 kills apiece while Haotian Xia also reached double figures with 10 kills. Sanders finished with nine kills and tied for a team-high with five blocks as Truman also added five blocks to go along with seven kills. Hayden Boehle notched 11 digs on the night while Casey McGarry racked up 34 assists and DeWeese finished with nine.

The Gauchos turn right around for a rematch with Pepperdine this Friday, Jan. 11 at 7:00 p.m. at the Firestone Fieldhouse.