LONG BEACH – In the biggest match of the year, the No. 3 UC Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team nearly pulled off the upset over No. 1 Long Beach State, pushing the 49ers to five sets before ultimately falling 3-2 (22-25, 25-15, 26-28, 25-17, 15-11) at Walter Pyramid on Thursday night.
The Gauchos (15-4) saw their rally-scoring era program record 12-match win streak come to an end on a night when they became the first team to take the Beach (18-0) to a fifth set this season. Entering Thursday’s match, the 49ers had won 16 of its 17 matches via sweep, and had only lost one set all year.
“We weren’t sure if we were ready going into this match, but as you could see tonight, we’re absolutely able to play with any team in the country,” said associate head coach Cullen Irons.
Spencer Fredrick had a career night for the Gauchos, tallying a team-high 17 kills along with 10 digs for his second straight double-double, and came two blocks away from making it a triple-double. The usual suspects, Corey Chavers and Ryan Wilcox, were also instrumental in the offense with 13 kills apiece.
UCSB came out strong, looking to put an end to Long Beach State’s 36-match home winning streak, and took the opening set, 25-22, to force the Beach to play from behind for the first time all season.
LBSU responded in a big way in the second set, evening the match at 1-1 after a dominant 25-15 second set.
In the third and most thrilling set of the night, the Gauchos found themselves trailing 23-18 before going on an incredible 6-0 run to take a 24-23 lead. Case McGarry held service during the run, adding an ace to a pair of Chavers kills to put UCSB in a position to go up two sets to one. With a 26-25 UCSB advantage, controversy ensued giving the Beach the next point. The Gauchos were unfazed, however, and took the next two points, punctuating the win on a Fredrick ace.
A tight fourth set slipped away from UCSB late after the 49ers went on an 8-1 run down the stretch to take the set 25-17 and force a fifth and decisive game.
Louis Richard began the final frame with back-to-back kills, helping the Beach out to a 3-0 lead and they would maintain a 2-3 point advantage for the entire set. The Gauchos kept it close, trailing 11-9 and 12-10, but were unable to overcome strong attacks from Kyle Ensing late to put the game away.
“It came down to serving and siding out on the first ball,” Irons said. “We did a much better job in those sets (sets one and three). In the second and fourth, and fifth (sets), their serve got really hot.”
Long Beach State outhit the Gauchos .356 (63-15-135) to .189 (56-28-148) and capitalized on a season-high 28 attacking errors from UCSB. The Beach also had 10 aces to Santa Barbara’s five, and 47 digs to 43. The Gauchos edged LBSU in blocks, 25-20.
Hayden Boehle was everywhere on the defensive end, scooping up a match-high 16 digs and Brandon Hicks, along with Fredrick, recorded eight total blocks apiece. McGarry dished out 48 assists on the night.
Ensing led the Beach with 27 kills on .471 hitting (27-3-51) while TJ DeFalco and Nick Amado also reached double figures with 12 and 11 kills, respectively.
No. 3 UCSB and No. 1 Long Beach State won’t have to wait long for a rematch as the two teams face off again tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. in Santa Barbara’s Rob Gym.