Old-school rivalry when UCSB and Pepperdine meet on Tuesday

Photo of UC Santa Barbara Big West title celebration by Jay Metzger

NCAA Men’s Volleyball Tournament

At Columbus, Ohio

All times HST

Monday

Match 1: Belmont Abbey (15-7) vs. Penn State (21-3), 11 a.m.

Live stats: http://stats.statbroadcast.com/statmonitr/?id=350020

Tuesday

Match 2: Pepperdine (13-6) vs, UC Santa Barbara (15-4), 11 a.m.

Live stats: http://stats.statbroadcast.com/statmonitr/?id=350019

Match 3: Match 1 winner vs. Lewis (20-2), 2 p.m.

Live stats: http://stats.statbroadcast.com/statmonitr/?id=350018

Thursday

Match 4: Hawai’i (15-1) vs. Match 2 winner, 11 a.m.

Live stats: http://stats.statbroadcast.com/statmonitr/?id=350017

Match 5: BYU (19-3) vs. Match 3 winner, 2 p.m.

Saturday

Match 6: Match 4 vs. Match 5 winners, 2 p.m.

TV: Saturday’s final only, ESPNu

Radio: Hawai’i matches only, 1420-AM/92.7 FM

Live stream: Matches 1, 2, 3 BTN-plus

Matches 4-5, NCAA.com

By Cindy Luis

It’s one of the oldest rivalries in men’s collegiate volleyball: UC Santa Barbara versus Pepperdine.

It predates the Mountain Sports Federation, the Western Intercollegiate Volleyball Association, the California Intercollegiate Volleyball Association and the Southern California Intercollegiate Volleyball Association.

A year before the SCIVA was officially sanctioned as a league in 1972, Pepperdine joined an “established” group of six programs — all of whose inaugural seasons were in 1970 — to bolster what would become the dominating force in the sport. From 1970 until Penn State broke through in 1994, the only schools to bring home the NCAA trophy were within 145 miles of each other: UCLA, USC, Pepperdine, Long Beach State and San Diego State.

Among the Big Six in 1970 was UC Santa Barbara, the Gauchos advancing to five of the first six final fours … but never winning it all. UCSB made it to the championship match in three of those seasons, each time running into the the buzzsaw known as UCLA, the last in 1975.

Since then, Pepperdine has won five championships while UCSB has made the NCAA Tournament just once: 2011 when falling to Ohio State in five in the final. 

This week, the Gauchos are back for the first time in 10 years and will take on the Waves in the first of Tuesday’s matches at Ohio State’s Covelli Arena (11 a.m. HST). It is the 110th meeting between the programs that reside on two of the most picturesque campuses in the country.

No. 5 Pepperdine (13-6) has a 72-37 series lead. No. 3 UCSB (15-4) has won the last two meetings, both in 2020 before the COVID pandemic shutdown of college sports.

None of that matters. It’s a new season and, for one, 2021 will be over.

‘I think it’s going to be a real good match,” UCSB coach Rick McLaughlin said during a media Zoom call Friday. “We’re very similar. 

“I think David (Pepperdine coach Hunt) has done a great job getting young players not to play like they’re young guys. They are real disciplined and we’ll have to play our best.”

Hunt agreed.

“It’s going to be a good match for diehard volleyball fans to watch,” he said. “A lot of good defense, popping the ball up and getting a good swing.

“We’re pretty similar. Good ball control and high volleyball IQ. It seems like I’ve seen this (UCSB) team for four years. They’re a veteran, scrappy crew. They don’t make many mistakes.”

While similar in style, the two took different routes to Columbus, Ohio. UC Santa Barbara won the Big West’s automatic bid when defeating UC San Diego in the conference tournament in Honolulu. The Gauchos have won 10 straight after losing three in a row in February to top-ranked Hawai’i in Isla Vista, Calif.

The Waves come in as an at-large selection, having lost to No. 2 Brigham Young in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament in Provo. Pepperdine, finishing third in the conference, had its final three MPSF regular-season matches cancelled due to COVID protocols.

Both feature diversified offenses run by talented setters, senior Casey McGarry for UCSB and freshman Bryce Dvorak for Pepperdine.

The Gauchos are senior-ladened with McGarry, middle Keenan Sanders, outside Roy McFarland, and opposite Randy DeWeese. They are joined by sophomore outside Ryan Wilcox (Punahou) who was named the MVP of the Big West Tournament.

There’s nearly a foot difference between the Waves’ pin hitters, but both are effective : 5-foot-11 libero-turned-hitter Spencer Wickens, a senior who leads the team in kills (3.22 kps) and 6-10 Austin Wilmot, a transfer from UC Irvine, who is second in kills (2.12 kps).

Dvorek is one of three true freshmen starters for Pepperdine and “that’s always a challenge,” Hunt said.

Expect long rallies with great defense in this one. Whoever emerges advances to see top-seeded Hawai’i (15-1) in Thursday’s first semifinal (11 a.m. HST).

The Warriors flew out Sunday evening and were scheduled to arrive in Columbus Monday afternoon. The last time Hawai’i played at Ohio State was in 2017 where the Warriors eliminated Penn State in the opening round in five sets then were swept by eventual national champion Ohio State in the semifinal.

The first time Pepperdine played at Ohio State, the Waves won their first NCAA title (1978) 3-2 over UCLA. The other two times Pepperdine was in Columbus, the Waves finished second to the Bruins (1983) and tied for third (2007).

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