Jan. 7, 2011
No. 10 UCSB opened the first day of the Gaucho Collegiate Invitational with wins over No. 12 CSUN and No. 9 UCLA. The pair of wins propels the Gauchos to the Championship Match against No. 5 Brigham Young University tomorrow, Jan. 8, at 6:30 PM at Rob Gym.
UCSB entered its match against CSUN riding a nine-game losing streak against the Matadors. However, the Gauchos showed no intentions of letting that streak reach double-digits, as they won the match in straight sets, 3-0 (25-16, 25-21, 25-17).
UCSB came flying out of the gate, never relinquishing the lead in the first set after a pivotal kill from senior outside hitter Trey Valbuena put them up 3-2. The Gauchos received four kills apiece from senior outside hitter Jeff Menzel and senior opposite Cullen Irons, who both finished with 12. Senior middle blocker Dylan Davis added 4 of his 5 block assists in the first set, which the Gauchos took by a score of 25-16.
The following sets were no easier on the Matadors, as the Gauchos relied on a stellar sideout percentage of 72% in the second set and dominant play from Irons and Menzel in the third. Overall, UCSB held CSUN to a hitting percentage of .114, including a percentage of -.100 in the first set. Conversely, the Gauchos hit a robust .526, including .857 clip from Irons.
"We were feeling good out there. Everybody was clicking, our defense and serving was there. [Senior setter Vince] Devany was dishing it out perfectly," said Irons, whose Gauchos needed just an hour and fifteen minutes to fell the Matadors.
UCSB continued their trend of dominance in their match against higher-ranked UCLA, taking the match 3-1 (25-13, 25-23, 27-25, 25-23).
Improving on their first set play against CSUN, the Gauchos again held their opponent to a negative hitting percentage (-.053) and held the lead throughout the entire set. The Bruins could only muster 13 points, as UCSB's senior middle blocker Scott Slaughter turned in four of his 11 kills, with Menzel chiming in five of his 13 kills.
The Gauchos stumbled a bit in the second set, hitting only .103 as a team. Their defense remained strong, allowing the Bruins only a .156 hitting percentage, but their inability to bury their attacks hurt them in a set which included 13 ties and six lead changes. Ultimately, they dropped their only set of the day.
The Gauchos regained their form in the third set, though it required extra points. UCLA had rallied from a 24-21 deficit to tie the set at 25-25, but consecutive kills from Irons granted the Gauchos the set. Irons continued his dominance into the fourth set. Irons, who finished with 18 kills, had 5 in each of the final 3 sets. Though the Bruins kept it relatively close late in the game, an emphatic kill from Menzel cemented the victory for the Gauchos.
Head Coach Rick McLaughlin had effusive praise for his team, saying "our senior leadership really showed today. Cullen's been great, but like I've said, it's not just any one guy who's going to do it for us. That being said, if people don't stop [Irons], he and Menzel are our guys who can hurt them."
UCSB now looks ahead to fellow undefeated team Brigham Young University. The Gauchos will have to continue their strong hitting and defense in order to claim their second tournament championship of the year (the first being at the UCLA SAC tournament in November). McLaughlin cautioned "that's a good team over there. Our work isn't done. "
The official tournament webpage can be found here
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In October of 2008, UCSB Athletics launched the Gauchos Give community outreach initiative for all 450 athletes and 20 sports. Gaucho athletes give back to their community through free clinics, helping families during the holidays, providing financial and emotional support during tragedies and touching the lives of youth groups.
Part of the Gauchos Give program allows groups (non-profit, charitable or local businesses) to enjoy games on campus for free. Throughout the year, a large number of tickets are reserved for groups to enjoy a game at no cost. For more information on the Gauchos Give Tickets program, click here or call 805.893.UCSB.