In the final round of the Gaucho Collegiate Invitational this weekend, the UCSB men’s volleyball team fell to BYU by a score of 3-1 (15-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-19), finishing the tournament in second place. The Gauchos beat Mountain Pacific Sports Federation rivals #12 Cal State Northridge and #9 UCLA on Friday to advance to the championship match on Saturday. The team’s performance was the best finish for UCSB in their annual tournament since 2001.
“I think it was good for us. Losing was a reality check,” senior Scott Slaughter said. “We were on a nice run, but I feel we needed something to keep us in check. You don’t want to peak too early.”
Tenth-ranked UCSB came out strong in the first set against the #5 BYU Cougars, as senior Cullen Irons had five of his eight total kills in a Gaucho win. But 16 total service errors haunted the squad in the following sets, and a strong BYU defense with 17 blocks stifled the UCSB offensive attack led by senior outside hitter Jeff Menzel, who put up 15 kills.
“We came out firing,” Irons said. “But they made adjustments and turned the dial up. They’re a good blocking team, and their defense was really good.”
After the Gauchos lost the next two sets, Head Coach Rick McLaughlin pulled several key starters in favor of bench players to get some fresh legs on the court. Sophomore setter Oliver McLaughlin stepped up with eight assists, but BYU won the next set to clinch the championship.
Tournament MVP Taylor Sander led the game in kills with 16. Slaughter and senior Andy McGuire were named to the All-Tournament team. In their win against CSUN, the Gauchos snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Matadors after beating them in straight sets in the opening round.
“We’re where we want to be right now,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are close to starting, and when our first team isn’t getting it done, they will get a shot.”
The Gauchos begin the regular season next weekend, when they travel to UC San Diego on Jan. 14 to take on the Tritons. The home opener for the men’s volleyball squad is Jan. 26 against conference foe USC.
“We will be ready for San Diego,” Slaughter said. “It’s always a battle with them. It’s our time. We’re making moves.”