After beating USC in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men’s volleyball championships last week, No. 4 UCSB takes on the No. 1 Trojans again in the NCAA Final Four, hosted by Penn State today at 4 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. The match will be televised on ESPN2.
[media-credit id=20281 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit] “They don’t want to play us,” senior outside hitter Cullen Irons said. “We just beat the top three teams in the nation. It has been a bumpy road, but here we are. We’re playing great. It’s an amazing feeling when everyone is playing like this. This is what we’ve worked for. This is our time. We’re going to take the world by storm.”
In the program’s fifth Final Four appearance, the Gauchos will be trying to win the school’s first national championship. They reached the NCAA finals in 1988, but lost to USC in five sets. They were also runner-ups three times in the 1970s, but lost to UCLA on each occasion.
UCSB finished a Cinderella run through the MPSF tournament as the No. 5 seed by defeating the Trojans in five dramatic sets in the conference finals, which were held in their home arena in Los Angeles. Owning the top ranking in the nation for a majority of the year, USC (23-3 overall, 20-2 MPSF) won both regular season matches against UCSB (17-14, 11-11) behind the dominant play of MPSF Player of the Year Murphy Troy.
Riding a wave of momentum after wins over No. 2 BYU and No. 3 Long Beach State, the Gauchos handed the top-ranked Trojans their first home loss all year in the MPSF finals, earning an automatic berth to the NCAA Final Four.
Still, No. 1 USC received the only at-large bid and the selection committee created an all west semifinal matchup.
“We will attack them with the same game plan,” Irons said. “We haven’t changed anything. We need to make sure to play every point and never give them a chance to relax. We’re firing on all cylinders right now, but we need all the support we can get. Just about everyone’s families are coming. We know everyone will be watching at home. We appreciate it all.”
This Gaucho squad will go down in UCSB folklore regardless of the Final Four outcome. All-American senior Jeff Menzel finished his collegiate career with the third-most kills (1,998) in school history and the second-most service aces (130) in school history. Recording a career total of 4,436 assists, senior setter Vince Devany is third all-time in that category, and senior libero Andy McGuire concluded his career with 913 digs — the second-most in school history.
“The team is good and ready to go. I think it’s good for us to play USC again,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “But we need to play a little better. They will play better for sure. There are areas on our game that we have worked on. We’ve been playing on the road all playoffs, so nothing is different. This is just another road test. Our guys feed off it. They like it.”
The victor of tonight’s MPSF showdown will take on the winner of the other semifinal between No. 2 Penn State and No. 3 Ohio State. Both matches will be televised live on ESPN2 and will be available online at espn3.com.