UC MERCED, CA – The University of California, Merced men’s volleyball team took the first two sets on the road Saturday night against California Lutheran University. After giving up sets three and four, the Bobcats dug deeper than they have all year and squeaked out a fifth set victory.
Even the fifth set was a nail-biter, with the Bobcats requiring extra points to wrap up the victory. That victory came emphatically when Samuel Hala’ufiaand Jose Gomez combined to reject a Cal Lutheran attack and send UC Merced home victorious.
Playing without this year’s top offensive weapon Cole Smith, Hala’ufia rose to the challenge and flashed the laser-efficiency that made him an All-Tournament performer last season. Hala’ufia finished with 15 kills while hitting .517. He also added two digs, a solo block, and two block assists.
The Bobcats took sets one and two by scores of 25-21 and 25-20. They were close to shutting the game out in straight sets, but couldn’t close it up in the third, falling 25-22. Once set four ended with UC Merced on the wrong end of a 25-19 score line, it would have been easy for the team to chalk the game up to another missed opportunity. Head coach David Noblehad other plans when he addressed the team prior to the fifth and final set.
“I told them it was a matter of just reestablishing ourselves and rediscovering that ‘punch you in the mouth’ attitude” Noble said. “Our emphasis in practice all week has been flying around to the ball. That fifth set is what you live for. We had guys flying into the scorer’s table and off the court chasing shots, and that showed our passion for defense. I couldn’t be happier.”
The two teams alternated points for several straight rallies in the fifth, with UC Merced’s lead reading 12-10, 13-11, and 14-12. Cal Lutheran then dug deep and ripped off two straight points to guarantee the set would require extra points. The point alternation continued from there, with the Bobcats leading 15-14, and 16-15. Then, after a lengthy rally, Hala’ufia and Gomez rose up and shut down the home team to secure the road victory.
Matthew Lostetter and Tyler Cobian also came up huge in the victory, combining for 21 points. Each player had 13 digs, but Cobian tacked on two massive solo blocks as well. Setter Matt Pelfini was a player Noble mentioned by name after the game, noting his ability to set Hala’ufia in perfect positions to maximize his efficiency. Pelfini had a superb game, registering 46 assists while also adding a team-high 16 digs.
The win sets the team up nicely for a matchup with rivals Hope International University on Monday. The first of the two matches starts at 10:00 AM. The second kicks off at 3:00 PM.