UCSB Men’s Volleyball

Just as college students seek extra help in the form of study
groups or CliffsNotes, Evan Patak has taken a similar approach in
his fight to be a healthy contributor to UCSB men’s volleyball.
Injuries have been a constant of the 6’7″ junior’s career with the
Gauchos. But after a sore right shoulder kept him out of three full
matches and a part of another this month, the 2005 All-American
sought and found treatment for the ailment with a Montecito massage

“I found her through my network of physicians I’ve been seeing,”
said the 255-pounder, who’s also fought through ankle and knee
injuries during the past two years. “I get bummed out when I’m not
able to play because I’m used to injuries, but I’m not used to
sitting out. But [the massage] worked. I’d say I owe her about half
of what I did tonight.”

The performance in question was his first full match since he
returned from injury, and it was possibly UCSB’s finest moment of
the 2006 season. Pepperdine entered Robertson Gym on February 15
with a No. 2 national ranking and without a five-game loss in seven
straight matches dating back two years, but the Gauchos came away
winners of a 26-30, 30-27, 37-35, 20-30, 15-13 thriller. Patak
recovered from his own slow start to the night to record a total
match-best 29 kills, including the clincher on match point. And in
the nation’s strongest men’s volleyball conference, his
presence — which vaults UCSB from a talented-yet-flawed team into
one capable of beating the nation’s best — is badly needed.

The No. 12 spot the Gauchos owned in the national polls coming
in was largely meaningless. Eight losses in their first 14 matches
had sunk UCSB to the bottom half of the Mountain Pacific Sports
Federation, a slate where 10 of 12 teams were in the Top 15
national rankings. In addition, only the top eight MPSF squads at
the end of the regular season qualify for the conference
tournament, the winner of which qualifies for an NCAA tourney that
is a decidedly low-calorie affair. Just four teams make the NCAA
tournament, an event won by Pepperdine a year ago. UCSB won its
first two matches without Patak in the lineup before a three-set
loss to UCLA on February 8. Patak saw action the following match
against UC Irvine, but the shoulder injury sent him back to the
bench, and the Gauchos fell 3-1. But the Pepperdine win moved UCSB
from eighth to seventh in the conference standings.

“Tonight was crucial,” said Patak, his right shoulder wrapped in
a volleyball-sized bag of ice. “It was going to decide if we were
going to step up with the best teams or lay off and just be one of
the other ones.”

Overmatched and inconsistent at times, UCSB still turned its
urgent needs into desired results against the Waves. Bryan Berman,
Aaron Richman, and Patak each had two aces, while David Kennedy
totaled 10 kills. The Gauchos finally celebrated the victory a
healthy 153 minutes after the match began. The partisan home crowd
caught the upset-buzz for good in a tense third set, when Berman
followed up a kill — which hit the Waves’ John Parfitt in the
face — with an ace on the next point that tied the match at 21-21.
The remainder of the set featured 13 ties before the Gauchos took a
2-1 lead against a squad where four of six starters stood 6’7″ or

UCSB committed 24 of the match’s 46 combined service errors.
Patak himself sent his first serve into the net and only had three
kills by the end of the first game, when the Waves converted 18 of
their 20 such attempts into kills.

“This was something I’ll look back on and remember as one of the
highlights of my time in college,” said Richman, another junior who
played both volleyball and basketball at Santa Ynez High. “Evan is
our firepower. He’s an all-around good guy. We’ve had potential all
season, and there are upsets every night in the MPSF. We think this
is anyone’s league.”


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