Gaucho Rewind: 2011 MPSF Men's Volleyball Champs, NCAA Runner-Up

Gaucho Rewind: 2011 MPSF Men's Volleyball Champs, NCAA Runner-Up

This is another in a series of stories looking back at the last decade in UC Santa Barbara Athletics.

In the words of ESPN commentator and volleyball legend Karch Kiraly, UCSB's run to the 2011 NCAA men's volleyball championship match was one of the greatest in the history of college sports.  

Kiraly nailed it.

The Gauchos entered the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament as the No. 7 seed.  Their quest began with a four-set victory at No. 2 BYU, which had not lost a home match all season.

The win over the Cougars propelled UCSB into a semifinal contest against Long Beach State.  The 49ers won both regular season matches between the teams, but the postseason was a different story as the Gauchos pounded out a 3-1 win, securing their first appearance in the MPSF title match in 15 years.  

UCSB's next challenge?  Playing top-ranked USC on its home court where, like BYU, it was unbeaten in 2011. 

Led by tournament Most Valuable Player Jeff Menzel, the Gauchos defeated the Trojans in five games, earning their first MPSF championship and a spot in the Final Four for the first time in 23 years.  UCSB's reward for sweeping through the league tournament?  A rematch with No. 1 USC in the NCAA Tournament at Penn State.  

In the rematch, the Gauchos needed just four games to dispatch the Trojans and advance to their first National Championship match since 1988.

While UCSB dropped a thrilling five-game decision to Ohio State in the national championship match, the run to get there was, truly, one of the greatest ever.

Here are the original stories from the MPSF title contest against USC and the NCAA Final Four matches against the Trojans and Ohio State. These stories were originally published on UCSBgauchos.com.


April 30, 2011 

Gauchos Topple No. 1 USC, Capture MPSF Championship

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - 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 play 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." 


May 5, 2011 

Davis Leads Gauchos Over USC, Into NCAA Finals

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On Thursday night, the No. 3 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos edged out the No. 1 USC Trojans for the second time in five days in the NCAA Semifinals to advance to the Championship Match, which will take place on Saturday, May 7. Dylan Davis led the way for the Gauchos, as the sophomore set an NCAA tourney record with an .882 hitting percentage on 15 kills. Davis's 15 kills tied for the team lead with senior opposite Cullen Irons, who had another strong two-way game for UCSB. The win brought the Gaucho's record to 18-14. Their fourth consecutive victory, UCSB's current run represents the longest winning streak they have recorded all year. On the other side of the coin, USC (23-4) had their second consecutive loss (both against UCSB), which represented their longest losing streak of the season. 

Appearing in just their fifth NCAA Final Four in school history, the Gauchos relied on a team effort to overcome USC once again. That team play was especially necessary on Thursday night, as senior outside hitter Jeff Menzel, a first-team All-American and AVCA Player of the Week, was held in check relative to his monster output in the MPSF final. Jeff finished with 13 kills and a .071 hitting percentage, the lowest both stats have been since Apr. 14 at Pepperdine. Davis's career night was the highlight for the Gauchos, as he recorded a career-high 15 kills and smashed the NCAA tourney record for hitting percentage with an .882 clip. The record was previously held by Jeff Nygaard, currently an assistant coach with the Trojans, at .867. Cullen Irons also had a night to remember, co-leading the Gauchos with 15 kills and having another strong defensive match, picking up six digs and a season-high six blocks, which also led the team. As a team, the Gauchos hit .394, nearly identical to the .395 clip in their last matchup against USC. 

The first game, which was the tighest all match, started with a kill by Cullen Irons followed by a pair of kills from senior outside hitter Trey Valbuena that tied the match at 3-3. Valbuena had eight kills on the night with an .800 hitting percentage. The entire set ended up being a battle of attrition, with the two teams being tied at the 20-20 mark. The Trojans appeared on their way to a first-game victory with the score 22-21 in favor of USC, when UCSB Head Coach Rick McLaughlin took a timeout. Off the timeout, a double-contact ball handling error by USC setter Riley McKibbin and a solo block by Cullen Irons swung the score back in the Gaucho's favor. The teams continued trading points, and USC had two chances to put away the set, but Cullen Irons recorded a redeeming kill each time. A service error by USC's Tri Bourne at 27-27 was followed by a block from Menzel and senior middle blocker Scott Slaughter, clinching the set for UCSB. Davis had four kills, while Irons had his strongest game of the match with five digs and four kills. Senior libero Andy McGuire also had four of his 11 digs in the first game-the third straight match that McGuire has recorded double-digit digs. The Trojans were paced by Tri Bourne, who had eight kills in the game. The set had 16 ties and six lead changes, the most in both of any game.

The second set started right where the first had ended, as Slaughter and Irons teamed up to put away the first point of the set. An ace from Menzel that put the Gauchos up 3-1 was the largest lead the team would get all set, as the teams deadlocked once again to a 20-20 tie. A Murphy Troy ace on the first extra point of the game would end the set in the Trojan's favor. The second game was almost as closely contested as the first, featuring 13 ties and three lead changes.

UCSB rebounded from losing the second game immediately at the onset of the third, claiming the first four points. That lead was not relinquished throughout the set. Dylan Davis had recorded kills on his first eight attacks, but that streak was ended in the third game, as his ninth attack was digged. The teams were relatively close up until 14-12, but the Gauchos went on a run in which they claimed 11 of the next 14 points. Davis really shined in the third, picking up seven kills- his highest single-game total of his career. Cullen Irons added three blocks. 

In the fourth set, USC won the first point for the first time all night. However, UCSB came roaring right back, taking the lead 2-1 and never letting the Trojans establish a strong lead. Jeff Menzel came alive for the Gauchos in the fourth, turning in five kills, while Irons chipped in six more. Irons hit .857 for the game. It was a Menzel kill at 6-6 that sparked the Gauchos to the game, and match, victory, as they never relinquished the lead after that point. UCSB was simply content to trade points with USC after gaining some separation on the scoreboard. A Cullen Irons kill clinched the match, sending the Gauchos to the NCAA Championship Match for the first time since 1988.

Asked what it felt like to secure the game-winning kill, Irons said "It was awesome. I can hardly believe it right now. It's an amazing feeling. I've had a down couple of weeks and finally I'm getting back into the rhythm and it's just at the right time." 

Head Coach McLaughlin reflected on the match by saying "We knew it was going to be a battle. [USC] came to play tonight. The pressure was on there for a pretty long time, but we just hung in there like these guys do. They're a tough group of guys. They won't let this season end and we've got one more match." 

That "one match" will be this Saturday, at 4 p.m. PDT, against the other semifinal winner, the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Gauchos have never lost to the Buckeyes in school history. The Gauchos have also never won a national championship, so something has to give. 


May 7, 2011

UCSB Falls in 5-Set Heartbreaker to Ohio State 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 3 UC Santa Barbara's Cinderella run came to end at the hands of the No.8 Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday night, falling in a tense, drama-filled five-set championship match by a score of 3-2 (20-25, 25-20, 25-19, 22-25, 15-9) at Penn State's Rec Hall. 

The Gauchos battled back from a 2-1 game deficit to force a fifth game, but were unable to complete the comeback. Senior opposite Cullen Irons paced the Gaucho's attack, collecting 16 kills on 38 attacks. Senior outside hitter Jeff Menzel had a tough match despite collecting his first double-double of the season (13 kills, 10 digs), finishing with his lowest single-match hitting percentage of the year at .025. Senior middle blocker Scott Slaughter had a strong attacking night for the Gauchos, tallying eight kills and leading the team with a .583 hitting percentage. 

Ohio State was led by Shawn Sangrey, who punished the Gauchos defense with 30 kills. Setter Steven Kehoe, named Tournament MVP, recorded 65 assists on the night.In the end, UCSB's inability to stop Sangrey and Grayson Overman proved to be the end of their season. As Irons put it, "Shawn Sangrey,we didn't have an answer. That was just the difference right there, getting kills. He was over .300, almost .400." Sangrey in fact finished with a .389 hitting percentage with 30 kills, while Overman had 12 kills and a match leading .800 hitting percentage. 

The loss brought an end to the Gaucho's longest winning streak of the season at four, and also brought an end to their seven-match winning streak against the Buckeyes, who recorded their first win ever against UCSB to claim the championship. UCSB finishes the season with an overall record of 18-15. 

In the final matches of their career, a pair of Gauchos set career milestones. Jeff Menzel, a first team All-American and All-MPSF choice, ecliped the 500 kill mark for the third consecutive year, finishing the year with 506 kills. Jeff wraps up his Gaucho career with 2074 kills, third-most in school history. Senior libero Andy McGuire tallied 10 digs on the night, giving him 277 digs on the year. That total gives Andy the top two single-season digit dig totals in school history. Formerly second on the list, Aaron's Mansfield 270 dig campaign in 2004 is now third. It was the fourth match in a row that Andy has recorded double digits.

The national runners-up, UCSB had one member of the All-Tournament team: senior Cullen Irons who, over the weekend, led the team in kills (31) and was second in both blocks (8) and digs (13). 

A match that ended in such heartbreak started off with the Gauchos feeling hopeful, as several OSU errors spurred the Gauchos to a first-game victory. Ohio had nine service errors in the game, including three by Kehoe, to go along with five attack errors. In fact, seven of UCSB's first eight points came off of OSU errors. The Buckeyes recorded six errors on their first seven serving attempts. Despite the miscues, the game remained tied as late as 17-17, when back-to-back kills from sophomore middle blocker Dylan Davis, Thursday night's hero, and Scott Slaughter created room to breathe for the Gauchos. Davis, who put a dent in the NCAA record book by recording the highest single-match hitting percentage (.882) in tourney history on Thursday night, had a more quiet night against OSU, finishing with four kills and a .250 hitting percentage. The teams traded points to 23-20, when consecutive kills from Slaughter and Jeff Menzel clinched the set for UCSB. 

The second game did not start as fortuitously for the Gauchos, who fell in early hole due to numerous attacking errors. Despite what turned out to be a strong finish, Irons had a bit of a slow start, not picking up his first kill of the match until UCSB was down 3-5 in the second set. Despite the early deficit, the Gauchos fought their way back and were tied up until 19-19. At that point, a Sangrey kill followed by a service ace from John Klanac off the arm of senior outside hitter Trey Valbuena swung the game in favor of the Buckeyes.Valbuena picked up five kills on the night, finishing the tourney with 13 kills overall. OSU never looked back after the ace, claiming six of the seven points following the tie at 19-19. For the game, McGuire picked up half of his 10 blocks, and Irons recorded a solid five kills. OSU picked up seven team blocks during the game.

Things seemed to be looking up for UCSB at the start of the third set, as they rushed out to an early lead, capped off by a Menzel ace that made the score 4-1. Ohio State was undeterred however, going on a run in which they claimed 12 of the following 17 points to make it 13-9. That chasm only grew deeper for UCSB, who never really threatened the rest of the game. 

The Gauchos jumped out to a second consecutive early lead in the fourth game, going up 4-2 after the first six points. However, once again UCSB relinquished the lead, as OSU tied it up late in the game at 17-17. Off that tie, back-to-back points by the Gauchos prompted a timeout from OSU coach Pete Hanson. Off the timeout, Scott Slaughter and senior setter Vince Devany teamed up for a block to retain momentum in UCSB's favor. Devany also finished the night with 41 assists, the seventh straight match he has eclipsed the 40-assist mark. A service ace from senior outside hitter Todd Travis that brought the score to 23-19 extinguished any hope of a comeback from the Buckeyes. Another kill from Menzel closed out the set for the Gauchos, ensuring that the national championship would come down to a dramatic fifth set.

The fifth set was as tense as possible for the first 12 points, as the teams literally went tit-for-tat. With the score 6-6 and Dylan Davis serving, a kill from Sangrey was followed by a triple block of an attack from Cullen Irons, swinging the momentum permanently to Ohio State. The Gauchos never recovered, accumulating just three more points in the match as OSU cruised to a 15-9 game victory. The game clinching point came off a triple block of a Menzel attack. Ohio State had a perfect sideout percentage and hit a lofty .714 as a team in the decisive game.

Ohio State claimed its first national championship in program history. UCSB moves to 0-5 in NCAA title matches in school history.

Head Coach Rick McLaughlin did not dwell on the loss, instead praising his team, saying "I'm extremely proud of my team and all of the seniors especially, for just having a great year. It was just an incredible effort by them."

Scott Slaughter similarly praised his team's effort, saying "You can hang your head if you want, but as long as you left it on the court there's absolutely no reason to. I thought that we did that. I thought we left it all on the court. We went to five. There's nothing you can regret."

For the match, UCSB was outhit by OSU .329 to.198. The Gauchos hit above .250 in just one game, while Ohio State was above .250 in four of five games. They were also outblocked as a team 16.5 to 14.0.