The No. 5 UCSB men’s volleyball team travels back to Provo, Utah for a much-anticipated rematch against No. 4 BYU tonight in the MPSF semifinals.
The game should be an exciting matchup after Santa Barbara and BYU split the season series 1-1. The Gauchos demonstrated a strong performance against the Cougars two weeks back on senior night, defeating BYU in a dominant four-set performance.
In addition, UCSB was the only team able to reach the fifth set against BYU this season, which is undefeated at home.
“We like playing BYU,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “I’m sure they will be better than they were last time, but we will, too.”
UCSB ended its regular season ranked fourth in the MPSF with an overall record of 18-8 and a conference record of 16-8.
BYU finished only a few games ahead, taking the first place ranking with an overall record of 19-8 and a conference record of 18-6.
Last week, the Gauchos hosted UCLA in the quarterfinals, pulling off a last-minute miracle comeback. Despite the shaky end to their season, which consisted of a four-game losing streak, BYU is back on top, coming off a 3-0 sweep over USC in the quarterfinals.
“We want to go all the way and we have the strength and skill set to do it,” senior outside hitter Matt Hanley said. “Hopefully we will show that kind of heart and fight in every match we play from now on.”
The Gauchos will hit the road with a loaded roster. Five players from this year’s team were recently named to the All-MPSF Team.
Sophomore setter Jonah Seif, who was named to the All-MPSF First Team, will be a crucial element to the Gauchos’ offense and defense against BYU.
Seif and senior libero Chad Kingi have the power to generate strong passing, an element that has been an indicator of success for UCSB all season long. The combination of serving and passing has been the deciding factor of all matches for UCSB.
“As long as we play our game, we should be okay,” Hanley said. “We are one of, if not the best, serving team in the nation and we need to crush our serves every time.”
Another key to success against BYU will be to quiet its famous crowd. In order to do this, the Gauchos will need to maintain a strong presence at the net and halt the Cougars’ offensive momentum.
Junior middle blocker Jake Staahl will serve an important role here, finishing fourth in the league with a blocking average of 1.24 per game.
On the other side of the net, the Gauchos will need to keep a close watch on senior outside hitter Gonzalo Quiroga. Quiroga was an offensive leader for BYU all season long, but in specific led the Cougars with 18 kills two weeks back against the Gauchos.
Tonight’s game will be available with live video and stat coverage. Tune into BYU TV at 7 p.m. (PDT).
If the Gauchos win, they will advance on to the finals to face the winner of the Pepperdine vs. Stanford matchup on Saturday night.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of April 24th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of the Daily Nexus.