Brigham Young University found out this weekend why underestimating the Gauchos can be a deadly mistake, while Santa Barbara proved that playing on the road has absolutely no effect on its ability to rumble with higher-seeded opponents.
With a 3-2 upset over the third-seeded Cougars in the first round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament on Saturday night, the Gauchos continued to run down the dream of winning a national championship by defeating the defending national champions.
After winning their first two games, the Gauchos (16-13 overall, 13-9 in the MPSF) watched as BYU (20-10 overall, 15-7 in the MPSF) managed to rally back in games three and four to tie the match at two apiece. Santa Barbara finished them off in the fifth and final game 15-13.
“We really throttled in those first two games,” senior outside hitter Nate Wack said. “We scouted them to a ‘T’ and it really helped. [Head] Coach [Ken] Preston said he was watching film five to six hours per day, and it’s a big credit to our performance.”
Santa Barbara had a chance to sweep BYU in three games, but the Cougars pulled out a win to avoid the Gaucho broom, thanks to a series of Ivan Perez’s match-high 24 kills.
“We let that third game slip away, and after the fourth game, we regrouped and knew we didn’t want the season to end,” senior libero Aaron Mansfield said.
Blocking was also a huge determinant in the outcome of the match, for the Gauchos stymied the Cougar offense, stuffing them to a measly .265 hitting percentage.
“Our coaches did a really good job of scouting BYU,” Mansfield said. “We watched a lot of film and because of it, our blocking did a great job. We knew what was coming and we weren’t surprised by anything that they did. We simply dominated the whole match. It was awesome.”
Senior opposite Adam Ulfers led the Gauchos with 19 kills on the evening – adding to the four Gauchos who slammed down double-digit kills thanks to the spread of junior setter Bart Kowalski’s 60 sets.
“Our offensive execution was a huge credit to our win,” Wack said. “We had to get comfortable in there pretty fast and I think it helped that we had such a precise game plan.”
The Gauchos now have a ticket to a semifinal match in Malibu against fifth-seeded Long Beach this Thursday, with a chance to play in the MPSF championship match on the line.
The victory over BYU marks the first time in three years that the Gauchos have made it past the first round of the MPSF Tournament. In 2002, they managed to spark an upset victory over UCLA.
“We know now that we have the ability to win on the road,” Mansfield said. “No matter who or where we play, we know we can beat anyone.”