The UCSB men’s volleyball team shows up when it matters most. In the program’s first conference playoff appearance in five years, the No. 7 Gauchos upset No. 2 BYU in four sets (25-21, 23-25, 26-24, 25-2), handing the Cougars their first home loss all year and advancing to the semifinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.
[media-credit id=20281 align=”alignright” width=”250″][/media-credit] “That’s the best win of our career,” senior opposite hitter Cullen Irons said. “Nobody felt any nervousness or antsy feeling. We came out ready to play. This is the best we’ve ever done, so no matter what we’re happy with how far we’ve come. We’re playing with nothing to lose.”
Although BYU came into the matchup with the momentum advantage of riding a seven-game winning streak, the Gauchos took the first set, holding the Cougar offense to a match-low 21 points. However, BYU bounced back on their home court and won a closely contested second set to tie the match.
But nothing could stop senior outside hitter Jeff Menzel, and the Gauchos won the next two sets to secure a spot in the semifinals. A member of the 2011 All-MPSF first team, Menzel recorded a season-high 27 kills with a hitting percentage of .373 and a match-high eight digs.
“Jeff was getting into it with their fans. They were yelling at him and he responded,” Irons said. “That was a very hostile environment. Over 3,000 people, and they were all in it. The building was electric. But that was a lot of fun to play in.”
Behind the human wall of senior middle blocker Scott Slaughter, the Gaucho defense held BYU to a dismal hitting percentage of .235 for the match. Slaughter posted a team-high seven blocks while adding seven kills to the Gaucho victory. All-MPSF second team senior opposite Cullen Irons also had a strong night, recording 13 kills and three blocks.
Massive middle blocker Futi Tavana made his presence known for BYU with a match-high nine blocks. Junior opposite hitter Robb Stowell led the Cougars 19 kills and Freshman of the Year Taylor Sander put up an additional 15 kills. But senior setter Vince Devany spread the ball around and exploited the Cougar defense with precision. With 52 assists, Devany broke the 50-assists mark for the fifth time this year.
“Vince distributed the ball very well and was tough to read all night,” Irons said. “We will approach the semifinals the same way. We will focus on bettering our game and figuring out the next opponent. This next week will be very serious.”
UCSB now takes on No. 6 Long Beach State, who beat UCSB in both regular-season matches and upset No. 3 Stanford in the conference quarterfinal Thursday night. The playoff matchup versus the 49ers will be the first appearance in the MPSF semifinals for the Gauchos since 2007.