Gauchos Topple No. 1 USC, Capture MPSF Championship
April 30, 2011
LOS ANGELES -
The Gauchos accomplished the improbable on Saturday night at USC's Galen Center, upsetting the top-ranked and top-seeded USC Trojans in a dramatic five-set match by a score of 3-2 (20-25, 25-23, 21-25, 25-18, 16-14), taking home the MPSF Championship for the first time in school history. For the second time this postseason, UCSB gave a top team its first and only home loss of the season- USC sits at 23-3 after the loss. UCSB (17-14) advances to the NCAA Final Four for just the fifth time in school history, and for the first time since 1988. UCSB, riding a three-match winning streak, will learn its semi-final opponent on Sunday, May 1.
Coming in, UCSB knew it would need a total team effort to edge out the top team in the nation, and that's exactly what they got as every single starter contributed in key ways throughout the match. Leading the Gauchos was MPSF Tournament MVP Jeff Menzel, who set a new season-high at the most opportune time with 28 kills. Limiting Menzel was a priority for the Trojans, said Head Coach Bill Ferguson, "We didn't stop Menzel at the right times. We got digs early in the sets, but he was able to rise to the occasion. The guy's a freak, and I mean that in the best sense of the term."
Things did not start off well for the Gauchos, who traded points with the Trojans at the onset of the match until USC mounted a run that saw them climb to a lead of 14-8 after a Murphy Troy serve found the floor between Menzel and senior outside hitter Trey Valbuena. Though the score of the set wasn't ultimately very close, the game featured some of the longest and most intense rallies of the season, as reflected in the team dig totals. UCSB had 11 team digs and USC had 13 in the first set alone. The Gauchos were able to regain a little momentum, coming as close as 23-20, before a block-ace combo from Tri Bourne clinched the set for USC. Senior libero Andy McGuire, a second team All-American and All-MPSF, had five of his 14 digs in the first set. As a team, USC had three aces. Murphy Troy, the conference player of the year, had six kills to go along with Tony Ciarelli's five. UCSB was unable to pick up a team block in the game.
The Gauchos came out of the second set flying, literally, as several Gauchos picked up diving digs throughout the set. USC gave the Gauchos a run for their money all set, coming their close with the score 14-12: a Menzel attack bounced off the face of USC libero Henry Cassiday, but the Trojans still found a way to get it over the net and take the point. UCSB was undeterred, claiming four of the next five points to reestablish the lead. Ironically, one of the tightest games of the year featured no lead changes: the Gauchos led at all points. USC came close at the end of the match, being down just one point at 24-23, but were unable to bring it to a deuce point. Menzel had a game to remember in the second, picking up 12 kills, his highest output for a single game all year. Senior setter Vince Devany had 17 of his 59 assists in the second game.
The third set got off to a similarly fortuitous start for UCSB, as they went up early 5-2. USC came back though, tying the game 9-9 when an errant Trey Valbuena attack crossed the net on the wrong side of the antenna. A block by Tri Bourne gave them the lead on the next play, and they never looked back. In the game, senior opposite Cullen Irons picked up five of his 12 digs, continuing his strong defensive play. On the night, Cullen had 15 kills and 12 digs for a double-double. It was just the second double-double by a Gaucho all season. The first was also by Cullen (12 kills, 11 digs at UC San Diego on Jan. 14). For the second game of the night, the Gauchos were unable to record a team block.
Needing to win consecutive games to take home the championship, the Gauchos got to work in the fourth set. An impressive solo block by Devany that tied the game at 4-4 seemed to fire up his teammates. With the score 11-10 Gauchos, Trey Valbuena had one of the strongest sequences of his career, garnering a kill, ace, and kill on consecutive points to distance UCSB from the Trojans. Menzel reached his 20th kill in the set, the sixth time he has reached that plateau in his last eight matches. UCSB would win 14 of the next 18 points, looking as dominant as they have all year in the meantime. Irons and sophomore middle blocker Dylan Davis picked up two blocks apiece in the set, and as a team the Gauchos hit .588 for the game, compared to just .185 for USC.
At the beginning of the dramatic fifth set, UCSB got a bit of a break on the first play when Tony Ciarelli slipped as he tried to strike a set, giving the Gauchos an easy point. The rest of the game would not come so easy, as the teams would be deadlocked all the way up to 14-14. A go ahead ace by Murphy Troy at 5-5 and a tying quick-strike by senior middle blocker Scott Slaughter at 8-7 were two of the key plays of the early part of the game. The Gauchos appeared on their way to an easy victory when, with the score tied 11-11, Jeff Menzel smashed a cross-court kill and then recorded a service ace on the ensuing point. However, Tri Bourne and Steven Shandrick teamed up for a huge block that tied the match again at 13-13. A Troy service error at 14-14 set the stage for the deciding play of the game. A Dylan Davis serve was poorly handled by the USC back line, who sent an over pass back towards the Gauchos. Scott Slaughter was waiting for it, smashing down the pass to claim the first MPSF Championship ever for UCSB.
Said Slaughter, "As soon as it hit the ground...there's no way to explain it. It was surreal. You put it in the work and don't quit, anything can happen."
Reflecting on the victory, Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said "We're a whole different team than we were two weeks ago. It's the guys' desire, it hasn't stopped all year and it's all coming together at the right time."
Three Gauchos were named to the All-Tournament Team: MVP Jeff Menzel, outside hitter Trey Valbuena, whose passing was key to the Gauchos playoff victories, and middle blocker Scott Slaughter, who clinched the championship for UCSB.
Looking forward, the Gauchos will head to University Park, PA to take place in the NCAA Final Four Tournament hosted by Penn State.
Asked about the prospect of playing in the Final Four, Menzel expressed no fear, saying "we don't care who we play. Whoever we play we are gonna beat."
A donation to the Gaucho Fund - regardless of the sport it supports - will be part of the One Donation is Gold system. This allows donors to purchase priority/premium seating and parking at UCSB games across several sports in addition to other benefits.
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