The Gauchos gave everything they had left in the tank, but ultimately it was not enough as the team fell to No. 8 Ohio State in a dramatic five-set NCAA Championship match on Saturday by a score of 3-2 (20-25, 25-20, 25-19, 22-25, 15-9) at Penn State University.
“I’m extremely proud of my team, especially all the seniors for having a great year,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “It started three years ago, and they gave everything they had. We just came up a little short, but what a career for these guys.”
[media-credit name=”Daniel Wade” align=”alignright” width=”250″][/media-credit] UCSB capitalized on Ohio State’s service errors to capture the first set and jump to an early lead. But the Buckeyes tightened their offense and won the next two sets to go up 2-1. The Gauchos fought with their backs against the wall to force a fifth set, but came up short and watched Ohio State celebrate their school’s first men’s volleyball national championship.
Senior opposite Cullen Irons led UCSB with 16 kills. Targeted by the Ohio State defense, senior outside hitter Jeff Menzel was significantly limited by the Buckeyes, posting 13 kills and a hitting percentage of .025, his lowest of the year. Senior middle blocker Scott Slaughter stepped up for the Gauchos, recording eight kills to go along with a team-high hitting percentage of .583, but Ohio State went on a 5-0 run to close the fifth set and win the crown.
“They got more stops then we did,” Slaughter said. “We did something that no one thought we could: We made one of the biggest runs in college volleyball history. You can hang your head for losing the final, but as long as you left it all out on the court there’s no reason to.”
The Gauchos were unable to come up with an answer for Ohio State’s junior outside hitter Shawn Sangrey, who recorded a season-high 30 kills for the Buckeyes. Sophomore Grayson Overman had 12 kills and a match-high hitting percentage of .800. With 65 assists on the night, senior setter Steven Kehoe was named Tournament MVP.
“We didn’t make the stops when we needed them,” Irons said. “We played a good match, but unfortunately we came up a little short. They did everything well and got a lot of blocks.”
The Buckeyes’ 26 service errors gave UCSB a chance to keep the match close throughout, but Ohio State never allowed the Gauchos to maintain their momentum. The decisive fifth set was full of tension, each team trading points back and forth. But the Buckeyes pulled away and secured the victory with a team block on Menzel.
The loss ended the squad’s improbable postseason run and the team’s four-game win streak, the longest of the season. UCSB now stands at 0-5 in NCAA title matches in school history. The last time the team was in the finals in 1988, the squad fell to USC. The Gauchos finish the 2011 season with an overall record of 18-15 to go along with an 11-11 conference mark.