When in Provo, Utah, do as the Mormons do.
“We’re going in like it’s a battle against the Romans in the Colosseum,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “It’s going to be an all-out fight.”
The #7 UCSB men’s volleyball team is anticipating a match of such proportions Saturday against #6 Brigham Young in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament Quarterfinals. Though the stakes may not be as monumental as the fall of an empire, a trip to Malibu for the semifinals is just as cool.
Preparing to take on the third-seeded Cougars (20-9 overall, 15-7 in the MPSF), the sixth-seeded Gauchos (15-13 overall, 13-9 MPSF) are determined to stay alive by whatever means necessary.
“[BYU] has weaknesses at the net and we have to attack certain areas,” Preston said. “We have to pass the ball well and our setter has to find spots and get it to the right guy.”
In last year’s MPSF Tournament, Santa Barbara was swept by Long Beach in the first quarterfinal match, putting a bitter taste in the mouths of the Gauchos. The Gauchos do have a recent history of pulling off the improbable. In the 2002 quarterfinals, UCSB upset UCLA – giving the team hope for pulling out a victory over this year’s higher-seeded opponent.
The Cougars boast one of the most capable offenses in the country, racking up kills via 6’6″ junior outside hitter Victor Bautista and freshman outside hitter Ivan Perez.
BYU finished the conference season first in aces and third in kills, assists and blocks. To defeat the Cougars, Santa Barbara will need to capitalize on every opportunity.
“[BYU] is beatable,” junior setter Bryan Berman said. “We’re definitely looking to get revenge. We’re all focused really hard and we’re ready to come out and win. [BYU] is a tough place to play, so we need to focus on an error-free game.”
Playing in BYU’s Smith Fieldhouse has been more than stressful for Santa Barbara in the past – the Gauchos have lost every match to BYU that has been played in Utah in the past four years. Cougar fans are infamous for their aggressive taunting and will be a factor in the match.
“[BYU] fans are obnoxious,” Preston said. “They show a lot of emotion, but if we can stop that, then we can defend our lives.”
UCSB ranks second in the MPSF, in aces behind the Cougars, but is preparing to adjust to the abnormal conditions due to the extreme elevation.
“We’re looking to make good serves, especially since they’re going to be tough at such a high altitude,” Berman said. “We figure that they will go after [Evan] Patak. That’s why we need to spread the ball around and get other guys involved.”