With four victories in the last five matches, the Gauchos travel to northern California to take on Pacific and defending national champion Stanford this weekend. Coming off a win over #2 BYU, #4 UCSB (9-6, 7-5 Mountain Pacific Sports Confederation) has an opportunity to make the conference playoffs for the first time since 2006.
UCSB split a two-match series with BYU last week. After dropping the first match, the Gauchos swept the Cougars in three straight sets on Friday night in a match that may go down as one of their most impressive performances of the year. Before that victory, UCSB had lost five consecutive matches to BYU.
“We showed we were better than them,” senior outside hitter Cullen Irons said. “We focused on our game, and we were more aggressive. Our attack was on because our passing was better. And our blocking was good. Winning the long rallies was key.”
Now hitting their mid-season stride, the Gauchos look poised to make an appearance in the MPSF conference tournament. The team has one of the conference’s best middle blockers in senior Scott Slaughter, who leads the MPSF with a hitting percentage of .490.
“The team is doing well, but we got two big tests this weekend,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “Stanford has a lot of returners from their championship team. That will be a tough match. But we’re real focused on Pacific. We have to win it. We missed the playoffs by half a game last year so that’s our goal right now.”
The Gauchos first drive to Stockton, Calif., to take on Pacific (6-9, 2-7 MPSF) on Friday night. Coming off a 3-0 defeat at the hands of #1 USC last week, Pacific has struggled in conference play this season.
On Saturday, UCSB will try to take down 2010 national champion Stanford in Palo Alto. In the last meeting between the two schools, Stanford won 3-0 behind the play of junior Brad Lawson. UCSB and Stanford (10-4, 7-4 MPSF) have yet to play this season.
“Getting splits is great, but we want the sweeps,” Irons said. “We will be focused on playing consistent and playing a full match at a high level. I love playing at Stanford. It’s a nice facility, and they pull out a decent crowd. They’ve always been really rowdy. But we thrive on that. We like the crowds.”
First serve of Friday night’s match versus Pacific is set for 7 p.m. UCSB and Stanford play on Saturday at 7 p.m. The next home match for the Gauchos is on March 2 against Long Beach State in Roberston Gymnasium.