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On the road for their furthest road trip of the season, the No. 12 UCSB men’s volleyball team will play a pair of games in Utah this weekend when they visit No. 3 BYU.
Winners in two of their last four, the Gauchos will face a tough opponent in BYU on Friday and Saturday while dealing with an even tougher crowd, sure to be mostly Cougar supporters in a televised event.
“We’ve had some pretty fun experiences going over there in the past,” junior middle blocker Dylan Davis said. “I’m sure their massive crowd is going to be going after us after what we did to them last year. I welcome that completely, that’s going to make it more of a fun environment. We have to go in there just knowing that this is a team that we can beat, and I think we should.”
Falling to Long Beach in four games last Friday, the Gauchos (4-8 overall, 2-6 MPSF) have had a week off in preparation for their trip to Utah to face a Cougar team they defeated in the first round of the MPSF tournament last season. Earlier in the year, BYU swept the Gauchos in the UCSB/asics Invitational.
“It’s going to be a challenge, it’s definitely an experience this team hasn’t been through,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “BYU is a very tough place to play usually because of the travel and they have a great crowd. They usually sell out their arena. It has about 5,000 people in it, and it’s loud and they’re a real good team. The challenge is huge; we’re going to just see what happens. We’re going to have a good game plan and compete well, and see where it ends up.”
BYU, meanwhile, has come out victorious in their previous four matches, improving their record to 10-3 (6-2 MPSF). The Cougars are 4-2 at home this season, with both losses coming at the hands of No. 1 Stanford.
“BYU is an environment unlike any other in our division,” freshman outside hitter Kevin Donohue said. “We will have a few fans there, but being in Utah, it’s going to be an entire gym full of BYU fans. It’s going to be intense, but I think guys on our team are actually looking forward to it, coming out there and playing in front of a crowd like that. It’s going to be a lot of fun, it’s going to be different and I think we’re going to enjoy it.”
Headlining the Gaucho attack thus far in the season have been Donohue and junior outside hitter Miles Evans, who ranks third in the entire conference in kills per set.
The Cougars feature a deadly weapon of their own in sophomore outside hitter Taylor Sander, the conference leader in kills per set at nearly five per game. BYU ranks fourth in the conference in kills and hitting percentage, featuring an efficient offense.
“We’ve got to definitely receive serves well and then on the other end, we’ve got to serve the ball well,” McLaughlin said. “If we can do those two things, then we’ll be in the match, and if you’re in the match, you’ve got a shot. If we don’t receive the serves well, then the match will be real one-sided because they have some athletes that are real hard to keep up with if we’re not perfectly in system off of a good pass.”
Currently in 10th place in the conference, UCSB sits a mere game behind seventh place Long Beach for the all-important playoff spot the top eight teams in the conference receive. This road trip could go a long way in deciding the team’s fate.
“We’re just going to have to stay focused,” Davis said. “Even if the crowd is really against us … we just have to keep pushing from point to point, and try to get the W.”
This weekend’s matches will be held in Smith Fieldhouse. First serve for both are scheduled for 6 p.m.