When the going gets tough, the tough get going … to the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs.
The UCSB men’s volleyball team will face UCLA on Saturday night in the first round of the MPSF playoffs. The Gauchos end their regular season with a 17-10 overall record and a 12-10 mark in the MPSF, good enough for a sixth seed in the tournament. The Bruins come in to the match as the third-best team in the country, boasting a 25-6 record and 17-6 record in MPSF play.
“It means a lot to the program,” junior outside hitter Jan Carlo Zegarra said about his team’s playoff birth against the Bruins.
Behind its stellar defensive tenacity and competitive offensive drive from experienced starters, Santa Barbara is making its first appearance in the MPSF postseason in four years. Last season, UCSB was only 12-12 overall and mustered a 5-12 conference record.
This season, things clicked.
“We had goals at the beginning of the year,” freshman libero Aaron Mansfield said. “We expected to win.”
On Saturday, the Gauchos will try to dethrone a perennial favorite for the coveted MPSF Championship. UCLA has made it to the MPSF Semifinals in each of its past two seasons and is primed to continue the pattern this year.
“[The Bruins] are a really good team,” junior middle blocker Anders Bengtsson said. “But we are also a final four-capable team.”
Santa Barbara will continue to use the weapons that have helped it succeed in its war thus far. The Gauchos will deploy senior outside hitter Andy Rivera to plunder the Bruins. Rivera, the inspirational leader on the court, has averaged 3.86 kills per game. The Los Angeles native has been steel on defense, recording 1.40 digs per game and .74 blocks per game this season.
The emotional Rivera wears the pride of the Gauchos on his sleeve and knows this year’s squad well enough to guarantee a Gaucho victory against UCLA.
“We are going to kill UCLA,” Rivera said. “I have no doubt it will be the first time in years they do not make it to the final four.”
UCSB is 0-2 versus the Bruins this year. The Gauchos lost a four-game match at UCLA on Feb. 19 in a see-saw battle and then again on March 1 at Rob Gym to snap their unbeaten home streak.
UCLA junior outside hitter Cameron Mount, standing at an imposing 6’8,” had 21 kills and a .333 hitting percentage in the Bruins’ season finale win over Irvine. Mount is one of the top players in the MPSF.
“Mount is having a good year,” Zegarra said. “We need to come out really big defensively.”
This will be the last game of the year for UCSB if they do not come out on top against UCLA. The nature of single-elimination play allows the winner to move on and sends the loser back to school, studying for midterms. But the Gauchos believe they have more games ahead.
“We aren’t intimidated by them,” Mansfield said. “Our goal is to win a national championship.”