Due in part to the stellar play of sophomore middle blocker Dylan Davis, the Gauchos took care of business against No. 1 USC yesterday in Pennsylvania, winning 3-1 (29-27, 24-26, 25-15, 25-18) to advance to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 1988.
[media-credit id=16616 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]Prior to last Saturday’s 3-2 victory over the Trojans (23-4), UCSB (18-14 overall) had not won a set against the country’s top-ranked team in a pair of straight-set losses. But that all went out the window, as the Gauchos registered this season’s two biggest wins — good for an MPSF conference tournament championship and an NCAA Championship berth — within a span of less than a week.
“Whatever seed you give us is fine, because we know what we are and we’re okay with it,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin told ESPN. “We’re just going to keep proving it.”
Davis notched a team-high 15 of the Gauchos’ 59 kills in just 17 attempts, for a hitting percentage of .882. That mark is an NCAA tournament record.
Senior opposite Cullen Irons matched Davis’ performance on the night with 15 kills of his own, also matching the mark he set against USC Saturday. Unlike the MPSF Championship game matchup, in which senior outside hitter Jeff Menzel dominated his way to 28 kills, UCSB spread the wealth yesterday. Menzel had 13 winners, while two more Gauchos added seven or more.
The Trojans fell victim to a sub-par serving night, putting up 20 serving errors against just two aces.
“Coming in, I could see this match going a bunch of different ways,” USC’s fifth-year Head Coach Bill Ferguson, “But I never saw it where we would miss 20 serves. So we were just clawing and scraping back there. We were outhit and out-everythinged.”
The Trojans’ Tri Bourne had a match and career-high 20 kills with a .429 hitting percentage. Senior opposite hitter Murphy Troy, the AVCA National Player of the Year, added 18.
Going into the conference tournament in late April, the Gauchos had lost four of five games and the senior-loaded team looked weak. Then, the squad caught fire in the MPSF tournament and rode the hot streak all the way to a spot in the NCAA tournament’s final round.
“They’re a tough group of guys,” McLaughlin said. “They won’t let this season end.”
No. 3 seed Ohio State took down Penn State in its own arena after the Gaucho victory yesterday. UCSB will meet the Buckeyes for the 2011 trophy this Saturday. First serve is set for 4 p.m. and will be televised live on ESPN2.