UCSB shocked the world of men’s volleyball Saturday night with a five-set win over No. 1 USC at the Trojan’s Galen Center to capture the 2011 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament Championship.
[media-credit id=20281 align=”alignright” width=”250″][/media-credit]With the program’s first ever MPSF Championship title, UCSB advances to the NCAA Final Four for the fifth time in school history and the first time since 1988. USC had not lost at the Galen Center all season.
“We’ve been focusing on playing hard every point and leaving nothing to question,” senior outside hitter Cullen Irons said. “When we’re playing like that, nobody will beat us. It doesn’t get much better than winning the league championship. Our run isn’t over yet.”
After upsetting No. 2 BYU and then No. 6 Long Beach State in the opening rounds of the conference tournament, the Gauchos beat the Trojans 3-2 (20-25, 25-23, 21-25, 25-18, 16-14). UCSB’s senior-heavy squad received outstanding efforts from the entire team, but senior outside hitter Jeff Menzel — MPSF Tournament MVP — once again led the attack after recording a season-high 28 kills in the victory.
“We didn’t stop Menzel at the right times,” USC Head Coach Bill Ferguson said. “We got digs early in the sets, but he was able to rise to the occasion. The guy’s a freak, and I mean that in the best sense of the term.”
USC opened the MPSF finals with a 14-8 lead in the first set after a serving ace from conference Player of the Year senior Murphy Troy. After a series of long rallies and diving digs, the Trojans clinched an early match lead with a first set victory of 20-25. Senior libero Andy McGuire — a second team All-American and All-MPSF honoree — recorded five of his 14 digs in the first set.
Although USC made a late run in the second set, the Gauchos maintained a lead throughout to tie the match at 1-1. UCSB senior setter Vince Devany put up 17 of his 59 assists in the second game. He was complemented by Menzel’s single-game season-high 12 kills in the set.
The Gauchos carried momentum into the third set and jumped out to a 5-2 lead, but USC bounced back to seize the lead late in the set and a 25-21 win. Irons put up 15 kills and 12 digs in the match for just the second double-double by a Gaucho all year.
With its back against the wall, UCSB dominated the fourth set behind the play of senior Trey Valbuena, along with the defense of sophomore middle blocker Dylan Davis and senior blocker Scott Slaughter. The duo helped limit the Trojans to a hitting percentage of just .185 for the match.
“We never got down on ourselves at all,” Irons said. “They made a couple good runs, but we came out and stomped them in the fourth set. I didn’t doubt for second that we would win.”
The dramatic fifth set went back and forth until the Gauchos served for match point. USC struggled with a serve from Davis, and Slaughter put away a sloppy ball from the Trojans to capture the MPSF championship trophy .
But the Gauchos and Trojans are not done. USC received an at-large bid from the selection committee and will take on UCSB in the NCAA Final Four on May 5at Penn State University next week. Ohio State and Penn State face off in the other semifinal. The match between UCSB and USC will be televised on ESPN.