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UCLA men’s volleyball falls to UC Santa Barbara in tense 5-set matchup

Redshirt junior Guy Genis smashes a kill over the net. The middle blocker showed out on both ends of the floor Thursday night, tallying nine kills alongside a team-high seven blocks. (Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

Men's Volleyball


No. 2 UCLA2
No. 17 UC Santa Barbara3

By Anthony Aroyan

Jan. 26, 2024 1:55 p.m.

As a Gaucho went up to serve, the Den roared.

“To be, or not to be, that is the question.”

But like Hamlet himself, the Bruins could not pull victory from the jaws of defeat.

No. 2 UCLA men’s volleyball (5-2) fell to No. 17 UC Santa Barbara (3-5) on Thursday night in five sets. With the loss – in which neither team won a set by more than two points – the Bruins have now matched their loss total from the 2023 season in 26 fewer games.

“I haven’t seen a scoreline like that in quite some time,” said coach John Speraw. “It was the little things here and there that made the difference. We’ll just have to go back and take a look at what those were.”

The back-and-forth nature of the affair was evident from the first set. Neither team managed to establish a dominant presence on the court and construct a lead, with a match-high 10 tied scores and two lead changes in the opening frame. Despite occasionally matching the Gauchos, the Bruins failed to overcome the deficit, dropping the first set 30-28 in overtime.

As the battle progressed, a showdown simultaneously brewed in the stands. Pauley Pavilion’s student section put on a show of its own, continuously taunting the Gauchos.

From reciting lines from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A,” the Den was never muted through the five frames of action – whether it be the usual cheers after successful plays or jeering at the visitors.

Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Cooper Robinson said the chants and mockery uplifted the team in the match’s tense moments.

“I was listening to a few of the chants, and they were pretty funny, I’m not going to lie,” Robinson said. “I think we had a good show tonight, but we’re not the best team in the nation right now, and we need to show it, we need the fans to come hype us up.”

Robinson proved to be an important rotational piece in keeping the Bruins in the match. Starting the final two frames, Robinson led the team in kills in the fourth set with seven while subsequently adding a service ace to his scoresheet.

(Vivian Le/Daily Bruin)
Cooper Robinson soars for a spike. The redshirt sophomore outside hitter has had a thunderous start to the season with three matches of at least nine kills – a feat he didn't reach in all of his 14 games last season. (Vivian Le/Daily Bruin)

Redshirt junior Grant Sloane joined Robinson in contributing off the bench. The outside hitter tallied six kills at a .462 clip and notched three blocks in the final two sets.

Speraw said the addition of Robinson and Sloane to the match provided a necessary spark for UCLA.

“Outstanding,” Speraw said. “I know I can go to them, and other guys (can) too, and get some performances like that.”

With the Gauchos and Bruins trading sets, the first-to-15 fifth frame became the evening’s climax. By then, tension in the arena reached its apex. The Bruin faithful heckled each server, their chirps resounding around the Santa Barbara bench.

Soaring above the net, a kill from Guy Genis cut the Bruin deficit to 8-7 in the final set. Genis was another near hero for the Bruins. The redshirt junior middle blocker led the team in blocks with eight but said the loss was disappointing because of poor performance.

“I think we played really bad overall,” Genis said. “People came and contributed from the bench, but we didn’t have what we needed. Our team really relies on the serve and pass, and both didn’t work well tonight. We couldn’t find the tools we needed to win this game.”

With three consecutive UCLA service errors down the stretch, even Genis’ efforts fell short as a Santa Barbara ace ended the contest.

Speraw said the energy and intensity the Gauchos brought to the match proved that the Bruins are the team to beat this season.

“You’re going to see teams come in here and play their best volleyball this year,” Speraw said. “We’re defending champs, we’re favorites, no one has anything to lose. We’re going to have to be ready for that, and it’s going to make us better in the long run.”

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Anthony Aroyan
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