Freshman Brandon Hicks and senior Corey Chavers paired up for a series of crucial blocks late in the fifth set to propel the No. 10 UC Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team to a 3-2 (19-25, 25-15, 25-22, 22-25, 15-13) victory over No. 9 Lewis on Friday night in Rob Gym.
Chavers had a big night for the Gauchos (6-3) with a game-high 19 kills, while Hicks matched his career-high with six total blocks and put the finishing touches on the seesaw battle with a kill for match point.
“Not the steadiest match for either team, but we played well when it really counted most in game five just like we did at Ball State last week,” said head coach Rick McLaughlin. “We will have to play better tomorrow night against a very good Loyola team. But our guys know that and I think we will. Should be another good match.”
Santa Barbara got off to a slow start against the Flyers (5-3), who hit .600 with 12 kills and no errors in the opening frame while the Gauchos hit just .103 (10-7-29) out of the gate. After service errors plagued both teams in the opening set, UCSB fell behind and could not overcome the early deficit.
The Gauchos flipped the script in the second set, hitting .412 (10-3-17) to Lewis’ .053 (7-6-19), and rode a wave of momentum sparked by back-to-back service aces from Randy DeWeese to put the game out of reach. After DeWeese’s second ace made it 7-6 UCSB, the Gauchos rattled off 12 of the next 15 points, including seven in-a-row at one point, to take a commanding 19-9 lead. The freshmen duo of Haotian Xia and Ryan Wilcox were instrumental during the run, and UCSB finished off the Flyers 25-15 in the game.
The third set featured a more even exchange between the two teams, with neither team leading by more than two points until the final point. After a back-and-forth battle early, the Gauchos managed to create a two-point separation after another tandem block by Chavers and Hicks to put UCSB ahead 15-13. From there, the teams traded point for point until, with the score 24-22, Keenan Sanders and DeWeese paired up for a block to give Santa Barbara a 2-1 lead.
The Flyers soared back, however, with a .524 (13-2-21) hitting percentage in set four and a 5-1 run midway through the set created enough of a gap to hold on and force a fifth set.
Playing in a decisive fifth set for already the fourth time in nine matches, UCSB came out strong with a quick 4-1 advantage behind kills from Chavers and DeWeese. Lewis rallied back to tie the score at 7-7, and after a Gaucho timeout, snagged its first lead of the set, 9-8. After a service error, Hicks and Chavers came through in a big way with back-to-back blocks to swing the momentum back to Santa Barbara with an 11-9 lead. After a Hicks kill made it 12-10, Hicks and Chavers paired up again for another block to make it 13-10 UCSB. Up 14-13 with match point on the line, none other than Hicks came through for the winning kill.
Wilcox and Xia joined Chavers in double-figures with 12 and 11 kills, respectively, while DeWeese had a strong all-around match yet again with 49 assists, six digs, four kills and three service aces. Hayden Boehle led the team with 10 digs and Chavers pitched in seven. Sanders, meanwhile, finished with eight kills on the night and two blocks.
UCSB hosts No. 5 Loyola-Chicago (6-1) Saturday night, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. at Rob Gym.