For the fifth straight match to start the season, the UCSB men’s volleyball team ran another opponent off the road.
This time it was David Letterman’s alma mater, Ball State.
Behind 10 kills from senior Randy DeWeese and nine from sophomore outside hitter Ryan Wilcox, the No. 4 Gauchos hammered the Cardinals 25-19, 25-16, 25-13 on Saturday night at Rob Gym. UCSB improved to 5-0 with its fifth straight three-set sweep.
“I like how we started,” Gaucho coach Rick McLaughlin said. “Starting fast is good because it really deflates the other team. I think we’ve got to get a little bit steadier throughout the middle of the game, but I like how we started.”
UCSB got off to terrific starts in the first two sets — jumping out to a 7-1 lead in the opener and a 7-2 advantage in the second. The Gauchos were so dominant in the match that they didn’t trail until the early stages of the third set.
Even when Ball State led 8-5 in the third and showed signs of maybe ending the Gauchos’ streak of 14 straight winning sets, UCSB exploded with a 20-5 run to send the Cardinals back to Muncie, Indiana with their first loss of the season in four matches.
“We got these guys at the end of their road trip, so that was kind of good for us,” McLaughlin said. “We definitely forced them to not play well.”
As it was for their first four matches, the Gauchos got another outstanding performance from setter Casey McGarry.
The senior from Manhattan Beach earned the first three points for UCSB at the serving line with a kill from DeWeese and a pair of aces for a 3-0 lead in the opening set. McGarry, who was named the National Setter of the Week by Off the Block after his work in three matches last weekend, finished with 30 assists after tallying 32 in a sweep over Purdue Fort Wayne on Friday night.
“He got us going from the service line, which is huge,” McLaughlin said. “I’m really pleased with Casey. Casey is running the offense really fast with good location, and he’s doing it off of any pass, which is what you want out of your setter.”
UCSB’s 12th-year coach has his team running a fast-paced offense because the Gauchos, by volleyball standards, are not a big team.
UCSB is using speed, passing and spectacular setting from McGarry to make up for its lack of size.
“Little things can help a small team,” McLaughlin said. “The biggest liability for a small team is blocking, but if you serve tough and get the passes off the net and we kind of know where the ball is going, then our small guys can get a full jump — and they all jump well.
“We can get better passing. We’re doing pretty well, but we can definitely get better. We gave up a few runs there, and if you do that against a top-5 team, you’re in trouble. We can’t be giving up more than two points ever at a time.”
The Gauchos finished with a .392 hitting percentage compared to just .070 for the Cardinals.
Ball State featured two All-Americans in 6-foot-8 senior outside hitter Matt Szews and sophomore outside hitter Kaleb Jenness. UCSB did a solid job against both, holding Szews to only two kills and Jenness to three.
“(Szews) is a very good player,” McLaughlin said. “He looked a little tired tonight, but if that guy gets going, he’s a handful. It was really important for us to jump on them right out of the gate. Those two guys are All-American caliber guys.”
DeWeese hit .400 to go along with his 10 kills and Wilcox finished with a .444 hitting percentage with his nine kills. Both were too much for Ball State to handle most of the match.
DeWeese said it all starts at the service line and with the Gauchos’ exquisite passing game.
“Our serving and passing is far beyond a lot of other teams, and it’s something that we focus on every single day in practice,” he said. “I think it’s a lot better than a lot of teams expect.
“All of our servers are really strong because every single day in practice we always hammer out serving. It’s very nice as a passer to have the leeway Casey gives us as our setter. I don’t have to make a perfect pass for us to be in system, because we have Casey, who is able to dish everything.”
While UCSB has enjoyed the friendly confines of Rob Gym through its first five matches, the Gauchos will hit the road, where they will get the supreme challenge from the likes of Stanford, No. 2 BYU, Ohio State, Penn State and UCLA before they return home Feb. 21.
“Our offense is really strong, and we can believe in that,” DeWeese said. “As long as our passing is there and our serving’s there, I think we can handle anyone on the other side of the court.”
McLaughlin said he’s looking forward to going out on the road for what will be the Gauchos toughest stretch of the season.
“We’ll find out what we’re made of,” he said. “We’re looking forward to going on the road. Playing up at Stanford next Saturday, Stanford always has a pretty hostile and vocal crowd. I like that.
“I want to see what our team can do. BYU will be a packed house (for two matches). They’re No. 2 (in the nation), and they’re legitimate. They’re very good. I look forward to it.”