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College Volleyball

A Backfire Sparks UCSB to Win Over Pepperdine, Seals No. 5 Spot for Playoffs

UCSB blockers Austin Kingi (7), Ryan Hardy (20) and Jonah Seif team up to deny the attack from Pepperdine’s Colby Harriman.
UCSB blockers Austin Kingi (7), Ryan Hardy (20) and Jonah Seif team up to deny the attack from Pepperdine’s Colby Harriman.  (Javier Delarosa / Noozhawk photo)

Jonah Seif put his heart, soul, and back, into an important four-set UCSB volleyball victory over Pepperdine on Wednesday night at Rob Gym.

The Gauchos pulled out a 20-25, 25-15, 28-26, 25-18 decision to overtake the Waves for the fifth position in the upcoming Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs. They’ll face either UCLA or Long Beach State in the opening round next weekend.

It was the fourth win in a row for UCSB (18-9, 13-8), which finishes the regular season on Saturday with a home match against MPSF co-leader Stanford. It also was the Gauchos’ second win over Pepperdine this season.

“It’s just good to be playing well at this time of the year,” UCSB coach Rick McLaughlin said. “That’s what you want to be doing. Our guys have been preparing well and that equals to playing well.”

Seif masterfully directed a balanced Gaucho attack. Matt Marsh led the way with 16 kills, Austin Kingi had 13, Ryan Hardy 10 in the middle and Hayden Boehle added seven.

Colby Harriman pounded 14 kills, Matt Tarantino 12 and James Gehrels 10 to lead Pepperdine (13-9, 12-9 MPSF).

Austin Kingi hits through the opening in the Pepperdine block Click to view larger
Austin Kingi hits through the opening in the Pepperdine block (Javier Delarosa / Noozhawk photo)

Pulling out a nail-biting third set was a huge turning point for the Gauchos in the match.

“Very critical,” McLaughlin said. “You can’t give a team like Pepperdine, ever, any kind of sniff of victory. They’re a great team; they’re always in the game. Getting that third game and going up 2-1 is huge.”

UCSB appeared in control after outscoring the Waves 7-3 to take a 20-16 lead. But Pepperdine battled back with four straight points, the last one coming on an ace by Max States, to tie the score at 20.

The teams went back and forth for the next few points. Matt Marsh buried a ball down the line to tie the score at 22-all, but a serving error gave the lead back to Pepperdine.

Then came the play of the match. Call it a backfire.

Seif came out of the back row to set but the pass was going over the net. He faked like was going to block and then turned away from the net so he wouldn’t get called for a back-row attacker violation. Pepperdine middle Mitchell Penning slammed the overpass off the back of Seif and the ball ricocheted over the net and into the Waves’ back court. They set up another attack and Tarantino hit the ball out of bounds, giving UCSB the tying point (23-23).

“I haven’t had that happen before,” said Seif, who had a great line of 47 assists, nine digs and eight total blocks (1 solo, 7 assists).  “I was in the back row so I couldn’t jump up and block it but I wanted to give the appearance I was there. I kind of jumped up and dropped my arms, and (Penning) wanted to hit straight down, so it hit me as I dropped them. I don’t know if I was above the net. I’m happy about that one. It was a big point.”

McLaughlin was pleased the referee let the play go.

“The ref made a good no-call because (Jonah) was below the net,” said the coach. “If he’s below the net, it doesn’t count as a block. Peppedine didn’t see it that way.”

Austin Kingi put a ball away from the back row for a 24-23 Gaucho lead, but Pepperdine’s  Tarantino answered to even the score. The Waves got to set point (26-25) on a hitting error by Marsh but a service error tied the score again.

A Pepperdine hitting error gave the Gauchos a 27-26 lead and Seif scored the winning point on a solo block.

“It was great to see the fight out of the team. That was big of our team,” Seif said.

The Gauchos carried the momentum of the dramatic win into the fourth set, building a 14-7 lead after an ace by Hardy. Pepperdine’s Gehrels sided out to make it 14-8 but UCSB countered with a combination block from middle Henri Cherry and Seif.

The middles have stepped up  during the stretch run of the regular season for UCSB. Cherry had a stellar weekend against Hawaii and Hardy was big Wednesday night with 10 kills, a .438 hitting average, three aces and six blocks.

“It’s just repping it out a lot,” said Seif of the middle attack. “It’s something we knew wasn’t as crisp as we wanted it throughout most of the season and we were disappointed with the numbers we were hitting and the way I was setting it. We really worked on it the last month and half so it’s paying off big. Our middles are opening things up for us.”

Said McLaughlin: “They’ve been great, they’ve been outstanding. If we can get a good pass, it’s hard to defend our middles and that’s shown the last few matches.”

On the play of Seif: “He’s turned it up the last few matches,” said McLaughlin. “I’d say a lot of guys have.”

UCSB’s lead in the fourth set remained at seven points until Pepperdine capitalized on a couple of hitting errors during a three-point run. The Waves pulled to 21-17 before Marsh sided out with a big kill. Seif followed with a bullet serve for an ace to make it 23-17.

Kingi sided out for 24-18 and the Gauchos finished off the Waves with a terrific dig by Seif and a putaway by Cherry.

“We kind of outlasted them on the long rallies and it’s something this team has got to get better at, and we’re doing it,” said McLaughlin.

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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