HARRISBURG, VA - In the first of two East Coast trips this season, fourth-ranked UC Santa Cruz defeated No. 10 Juniata 3-1 (25-20, 27-29, 25-23, 25-22) before surviving a wild 5-set thriller against host Eastern Mennonite (25-23, 21-25, 25-21, 23-25, 15-8).
UCSC improves to 19-4 on the season.
"Incredible start to the weekend for the Fighting Slugs. We faced tough opposition that played very well against us and we had to quickly adapt to the different playing styles to win both matches," said coach Paul Leon. "Our seniors stepped up in a big way when we needed them most. "
The Slugs opened a 5-0 lead and hit .267 in winning the first set. However after a block by Justin Fortner and Evan Kittle gave them a 13-5 lead, Juniata went on a 16-10 run to come within 23-21. Lake Merchen's kill gave UCSC set point, but the Eagles scored the next three points to tie it. Three ties followed before consecutive kills gave Juniata a 29-27 win to tie the match.
The third set featured 7 ties but Merchen won it for UCSC with consecutive kills.
Juniata opened a 6-1 lead set four but UCSC fought back. There were eight ties until UCSC closed it out after three Eagle attack errors to win the match in four.
Ryan Manley and Merchen each had 15 kills in the win. Merchen became the first UCSC player with 1,000 career kills as well as the school's career leader in aces as his three put him at 95. The Slugs finished hitting .206 to just .088 for the Eagles. UCSC had 14 total blocks in the win.
In the night cap, UCSC hit .246 overall but were held to under .145 in both the second and fourth sets to the host Royals. In the final set however UCSC opened a 5-1 lead and held off the Royals, using a pair of blocks in the last frame to hold EMU to .000 the final set and .181 for the match.
Merchen had 23 kills in the second game and 21 digs. Raymond Cascio had 15 kills and no errors for .577 hitting, the eighth-best single match mark in school history.
Kittle finished with 52 assists, putting him at 1.675 for his career. He passed Blake Chadwick for second all-time in school history.
The Banana Slugs play tomorrow morning against Marymount before finishing their weekend at Southern Virginia.