After finishing with one of the best records in the program’s history, the No. 5 UCSB men’s volleyball team ended its season in Provo, Utah. The Gauchos fell to No. 4 BYU in a quick three-set sweep (19-25, 22-25, 20-25) on Thursday night in the MPSF Semifinals.
UCSB finishes the year with an 18-9 overall record. BYU, this year’s MPSF champions, finishes the season on top with an overall record of 21-9 after defeating Stanford on Saturday.
“It was frustrating. I am really proud of what we did. We had a really great season, but obviously you want to end the season with the win,” sophomore setter Jonah Seif said. “It’s not completely disappointing because we competed as hard as we could; it was good to see that we fought until the end.”
The Cougars put the Gauchos in their place early in the first set. Multiple BYU attack errors and two kills from senior outside hitter Matt Hanley kept the match even at 7-7. BYU turned it around with three blocks and a service ace from senior outside hitter Taylor Sander to take a dominant 15-9 lead. UCSB found its rhythm and was able to pull within four, but Sander’s dominant offensive performance carried the Cougars to an easy victory in the first set.
“They were just serving a lot better than we were. They are used to the environment down there,” Seif said.
In the second set, the Gauchos stepped up earning a .222 hitting clip, their highest of the night. As a team, UCSB hit just .086 in comparison to BYU’s .273. Senior middle blocker Ryan Thompson opened up the set with two kills for the Gauchos, giving them an early 4-2 lead. Three consecutive attack errors from UCSB and a service ace from junior outside hitter Josue Rivera made it easy for BYU to regain the lead. The Cougars held the lead until late in the set when the Gauchos tied it at 18-18. Both teams exchanged points back and forth until a kill from Sander and a UCSB service error ended the set in favor of the Cougars.
The third set proved that the momentum was not going to shift in time for the Gauchos to pull off another miraculous comeback. Despite a consistent offensive push from Hanley, the Gauchos could not get their momentum going. Two of UCSB’s key hitters, redshirt junior Weston Nielsen and senior opposite Evan Licht, could not withstand the BYU block. The Cougars outblocked the Gauchos 17.5-3.0 on the night. BYU’s sophomore middle blocker Michael Hatch had a career-high 13 blocks against UCSB.
“They had us out of system so it made their job a lot easier to key in our attackers,” Thompson said. “They had us out of system for the entire game so we were really only able to go to two people.”
After this loss, the Gauchos were eliminated from the conference tournament and were not selected to play in the NCAA tournament. BYU went on to face Stanford on Saturday night, sweeping the Cardinal in a 3-0 match and claiming the title as the MPSF champions.
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of April 28, 2014’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Cameryn Brock of The Daily Nexus.