The No. 6 UC Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team swept both its season series and its final home match over No. 14 UC Irvine in a 26-24, 25-19, 25-20 Friday night win.
The Gauchos improved to 16-6 overall and 5-2 in Big West play while dropping the Anteaters to 8-13 overall, 1-5 conference.
Junior outside hitter Ryan Wilcox tied for match-high honors with 10 kills (.350) and four blocks. This marks his 12th double-digit kill performance in 13 outings, seven of which only went three sets.
Haotian Xia had another solid outing as he appeared in a second striaght match for just the second time since the end of January. The junior opposite was second on the team with eight kills.
As a team, the Gauchos had seven aces, with their 2.33 aces per set tying their third-highest average of the year. Sophomore Dayne Chalmers led all players with three. Wilcox had two. Sophomores Patrick Paragas and Andrew McSweeney had one each.
Middle blocker Donovan Todorov enjoyed his second-best hitting percentage (.778) of the year with seven kills. He also tied Wilcox for a match-high in blocks (4).
Coming off their four-set win over the Anteaters two nights earlier, the Gauchos couldn’t get into a rhythm early on in the first set. A block by Brandon Hicks and Wilcox ignited the Rob Gym crowd while tying the opening game at 12-12.
Energy levels rose once again when Wilcox, Todorov and Xia combined for another block to put the Gauchos up 16-14 for their first two-point lead of the night.
After a timeout, UCI went on a 5-0 run to go up 19-16. UCSB soon answered with a run of its own, as Chalmers tied things at 22-22 with a blistering ace into the feet of a backpedaling defender.
The Gauchos didn’t trail again from there, sealing set one on a classy finish from Xia who hung high in the air before punching one right over a three-man wall into no man’s land.
Santa Barbara continued to show its quality in set two, pulling away midway through the set. A big ace from Wilcox capped a 5-2 run to put the Gauchos up 19-15.
Hicks made it look easy with a kill at the net and that was followed by Conor Dunn setting up Wilcox for a putaway to make it 24-18.
Paragas showed his quick reflexes with a dump to end the game in favor of the home side on one of his two kills for the night.
The Anteaters started strong in the third set as they looked to extend the match, but Chalmers cut through the defense with a devastating ace and the Gauchos capped a 5-1 spurt to take their first lead at 8-7 on a UCI attacking error.
The Gauchos’ momentum started picking back up from there. Todorov and Wilcox combined for a big block. The Gauchos showed great reflexes with a Chalmers scoop going to Paragas, who redirected it for another unstoppable Wilcox kill to put the Gauchos up 12-10.
However, UCI fought back, taking an 18-17 lead with a kill, block and ace on successive plays. After a timeout, the Gauchos scored six unanswered, including four Anteater attacking errors. Chalmers provided a signature kill and another ace that just barely trickled over the net as UCSB suddenly found itself up five points, 23-18.
On the final point of the night, McSweeney came off the bench and sealed the win with another ace that dipped into unsaveable territory off the net before being mobbed by his teammates.
UCSB will be on the road for its final four regular season matches, starting with back-to-back outings at No. 4 Hawaii on Friday and Saturday at 7:00 p.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Michael Jorgenson writes about sports for UCSB.