Facing Princeton on Wednesday at Rob Gym, the UCSB men’s volleyball team won the first set for the fourth straight time to start the season, but the Tigers took the next three to claim their first win of the year: 22-25, 25-18, 31-29, 25-13.
The Gauchos (1-3) were led by opposite Haotian Xia and Brandon Hicks with 11 kills apiece.
It was a career-high for Hicks, who provided a big boost for a UCSB side playing without All-American outside hitter Ryan Wilcox. Hitting at a .667 clip, he reached double-figures for the first time since his Big West All-Freshman campaign in 2019.
Appearing in his second match of 2022, Donovan Todorov once again provided a big presence in the middle, tying a personal-best with a match-high eight blocks to go along with four kills and two aces.
There was very little separation for most of the opening game, as neither team led by more than two points until the Gauchos took a 20-17 lead on a Princeton attacking error.
Todorov tallied his third block of the opening set, a strong solo stifle, to give UCSB its largest lead, 24-19. The Gauchos fended off a late Tiger push before going up 1-0 on a service error.
UCSB won the set 25-22.
In the second set, after an 8-8 start, the Tigers pulled away with a 5-0 run to go up 13-8.
Back-to-back slams from Hicks provided a spark, but UCSB couldn’t put together a run as Princeton controlled things the rest of the way.
Princeton won the set 25-18.
After starting the third set down 14-11, the Gauchos scored four straight to take their first lead of the set, thanks to two straight aces from Todorov.
Trailing 22-20, UCSB’s defense led to another clutch 3-0 run to put the home side up 23-22.
A blazing ace by Xia and a kill from Hicks set the Gauchos up with two set point opportunities, but Princeton fought back to eventually win the longest set UCSB has taken part in this season. The score was 31-29.
The Tigers’ momentum turned into a 9-2 Princeton run midway through the fourth and final set, as they clinched the most lopsided win of the day, 25-13.
The Gauchos head to No. 4 Pepperdine this Friday for their 2022 road opener before returning home for their following three matches at home.
Michael Jorgenson writes about sports for UCSB.