With their impressive third place showing at the Elephant Bar Invitational nearly three weeks behind them, the #10 UC Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team (2-4 overall, 0-3 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) returns home hoping to regain their swagger against #9 BYU (4-3 overall, 2-0 in the MPSF) in a Friday-Saturday doubleheader. Though the Cougars are looking to keep both their conference winning streak and streak versus the Gauchos alive in this weekend’s twofer, they come in facing a motivated and surprisingly confident Santa Barbara squad that is desperately seeking their first win in conference.
“Everyone’s hoping for a sweep, and we have the potential to do that for sure,” sophomore opposite Cullen Irons said. “I don’t think they [the Cougars] are as strong as they were in the past, and if we play our game we should come out on top.”
BYU has dominated recent action against the Gauchos – winning the last six meetings between the two schools including a sweep the last time they met back in March of last year. However, a lot has changed for both teams in the 2009 season, namely the departure of several key seniors that has transformed their team identities.
The new-look Cougar squad will make the trip from Utah without outside hitter Ivan Perez, who recorded a combined 39 kills in his team’s two games against Santa Barbara last season. The Second Team All-American and All-MPSF First Team player was undoubtedly the anchor of last year’s BYU lineup, setting several school records while leading the team with 458 kills on the season.
UCSB has also evolved with the departure of outside hitter Phil Matthews and middle blocker Theo Brunner, but sophomore outside hitter Jeff Menzel has picked up right where he left off last season, leading his team by averaging over 20 kills per game through the first six matches of the season. Though still adjusting to a new position – Menzel was an opposite in his freshman campaign – the rising star has done his best to keep his team afloat playing against top competition such as #4 UC Irvine and #2 Cal State Northridge.
“Jeff’s been tearing it up out there, but when it comes to us winning, we need to work on all of the little things,” Irons said.
Though they have improved on serving in their past couple contests, the Gaucho’s service game has been an Achilles heel that has cost them several sets against MPSF powerhouses, subsequently resulting in one-sided losses. UCSB will also look to clean up their offensive aggression that has led to an unnecessary amount of attack errors.
ne of Santa Barbara’s biggest cheerleaders this weekend will be Head Coach Rick McLaughlin, who, much like his up-and-coming players, is hungry for a conference victory to get the Gauchos going. Both Friday’s and Saturday’s games will be played in Robertson Gymnasium, with first serve set for 7 p.m.