After a tough 3-1 loss to #2 BYU on Thursday, #4 UCSB regrouped to play its best volleyball of the season yesterday to beat the Cougars in straight sets (25-21, 25-23, 25-22).
The team improves to 7-5 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and 9-6 overall. BYU drops to 11-4 overall and 7-3 in the conference.
“Everything was on in that second match versus BYU. There was not one thing we didn’t do well,” senior outside hitter Cullen Irons said. “We came out ready to go and didn’t let up. Splitting with BYU is great, but I know we could have gotten that sweep. We’re now showing we’re a team to beat.”
Irons led the Gaucho offense in kills with 18. Senior outside Jeff Menzel and sophomore middle blocker Dylan Davis each tallied double-digit kills as well, with 13 and 11 respectively. Senior setter Vince Devany and senior libero Andy McGuire each had six digs to help the Gauchos win their fourth victory in the last five matches.
“UCSB stepped up their serving game and put a lot of pressure on us in a lot of different areas,” BYU Head Coach Rob Neilson said, “They did a really nice job blocking and dug a ton of balls. We weren’t prepared to respond.”
With a loss from the previous night on their minds, the Gauchos came out strong in the first set. Menzel recorded a perfect hitting percentage in the first game for the second night in a row, and Devany controlled the offense with 12 assists. Senior middle blocker Scott Slaughter killed any doubts about the health of his ankle by recording three of his four blocks in the first game, including a monster block to win the game for the Gauchos. Slaughter ended the match with a hitting percentage of .833.
The Gauchos kept the pressure on BYU by winning the first five points of the second game behind the serving of Menzel. Senior outside hitter Trey Valbuena stepped up for UCSB with kills at crucial moments in the set, and the Gauchos took a close second game 25-23.
BYU threatened in third game with strong defense. Futi Tavana and freshman Taylor Sander gave the BYU fans in attendance something to cheer for after blocking Gaucho kill attempts on four consecutive plays, but a serving ace from Menzel secured a match victory for the Gauchos.
The win over BYU was the Gauchos last home match until March 2, when they play #3 Long Beach State in Rob Gym. Next up, UCSB heads north for matches against Pacific and defending national champion Stanford next weekend.