The Gaucho men’s volleyball team put up a strong fight against #1 USC on Wednesday night at Rob Gym, but the Trojans were able to make a pair of key runs, allowing them to win the match in straight sets (25-20, 25-22, 25- 22). With the home loss, # 6 UCSB is now 3-2 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play.

[media-credit id=20281 align=”alignleft” width=”184″][/media-credit] Although USC never dropped a set, the match was closer than the score would indicate. Every set was a close contest, but USC took advantage of late leads to continue its undefeated streak, improving to 5-0 in MPSF matches.

“We could have beaten these guys,” senior middle blocker Scott Slaughter said. “We made late pushes, but it was too little too late. We started to break down a little bit in the middle of sets and became too predictable. I felt we shot ourselves in the foot a couple times.”

USCB dropped a close first set, but came out strong in the second set. With a tie score of 11-11, USC went on a run to make it 23-16 before a kill from senior outside hitter Cullen Irons brought the crowd at Rob Gym to its feet, igniting a five point run for the Gauchos to bring the score to 23-22. However, two straight Gaucho errors gave USC a 2-0 lead in the match.

The third set was a back and forth nail biter that saw a tie score as high as 16-16. Behind the strong play of senior Murphy Troy, the Trojans increased their pressure and jumped ahead to a 22-18 lead. The Gauchos fought to slim the lead to just one, at 23-22, but mental mistakes haunted UCSB once again. A home-team serving error followed by a hitting error ended the set and match in favor of the Trojans.

“We weren’t ready out of the gate,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “We kept battling, but you can’t do that against the number one team in the nation. You can’t give them free points. We need to serve and compete better.”

Irons stepped up big for the Gauchos with a match-leading 14 kills, and senior Scott Slaughter put up eight kills along with a single block. Senior Jeff Menzel added nine kills, but the USC defense targeted the Gaucho outside hitter throughout the match.

“We tried to make life difficult for Menzel,” USC Head Coach Bill Ferguson said. “UCSB spent a lot of energy battling back. Hats off to the Gauchos. They kept every rally alive. They always play well in their gym.”

Losing the home opener will be hard to stomach for the Gauchos, but UCSB proved they can play with anyone.

“It’s a tough loss, but we need to move on,” Irons said. “Everybody was contributing, and we played some good volleyball. We need to come out firing against Pepperdine.”

UCSB will once again enjoy home court advantage in their next match, which comes against Pepperdine on Friday at Rob Gym. First serve is set for 7 p.m.