Rankings have been thrown out the window, as No. 7 UCSB takes on No. 6 Long Beach State in the semifinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs tonight at 5 p.m. Both teams come off upset victories over higher seeded opponents in the opening round of the conference tournament.
[media-credit id=20281 align=”aligncenter” width=”192″][/media-credit] The Gauchos defeated No. 2 Brigham Young University in Utah last weekend by the score of 3-1, ending the Cougars’ win streak of seven matches and handing BYU their first loss at home all year. First Team All-MPSF teamer Jeff Menzel put up a season-high 27 kills with a hitting percentage of .373 and a match-high eight digs.
“Everything was working, and everyone was making huge plays throughout the game,” Menzel said. “The scary part is we know we can play even better. We have one of the best offenses in the country and we can beat anyone if we play hard and smart.”
Senior middle blocker Scott Slaughter posted a team high seven blocks while adding seven kills in the opening round. All-MPSF second team senior Cullen Irons also had a strong night, recording 13 kills and three blocks in the Gaucho win. UCSB will need another total team effort to earn a victory over Long Beach, who won both regular season matches between the two teams.
“We need to stick to our game plan and focus on exploiting their weaknesses,” Irons said. “We’ve been working on it all week. We’ll be ready to go. It will come down to how well we execute. They’re a good team. It’s not going to be an easy match. But as long as we go out ready to play we will have success.”
The 49ers boast a dynamic attack led by the duo of senior outside hitters Josh Riley and Kyle Friend. In the quarterfinal round versus No. 3 Stanford, Riley recorded a season high 21 kills, and Friend added 17 kills in the Long Beach upset victory over the defending national champions.
In the last meeting between UCSB and Long Beach, the 49ers controlled the tempo throughout and cruised to a 3-1 victory. The Gaucho duo of Menzel and Irons was significantly limited, and the UCSB offense failed to gain any momentum.
“Last time we played, our serving wasn’t great. We need to pass better too. If we do that, we can matchup with them pretty well,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “We have plenty of weapons and we can set up a lot of different guys. Our team is confident and we’ve worked real hard in practice this week. We’re looking to go all the way.”
First serve between UCSB and Long Beach is set for 5 p.m. at USC’s Galen Center. The top-seeded Trojans host No. 6 UC Irvine in the other semifinal match at 7:30 p.m.