UCSB found itself with the opportunity to claim the championship of the Gaucho Collegiate Invitational for the first time since 2001, but was unable to penetrate the defense of the BYU Cougars, falling by a score of 3-1 (15-25,25-18, 25-18, 25-19). The Gauchos claimed second place, and now look ahead to the beginning of conference play next weekend, beginning at UC San Diego on Friday, Jan. 14.
Initially, it looked like the Gauchos were ready to imitate the team that had dominated MPSF foes Cal State Northridge and UCLA in the previous day. Senior opposite Cullen Irons had five of his eight kills in the first set to go along with 4 from both senior outside hitter Jeff Menzel and senior middle blocker Scott Slaughter, who finished with 15 and 5 respectively. UCSB breezed to a 25-15 win in the first set.
But soon thereafter, the wheels began to come off. The Gauchos recorded eight service errors in the second set alone, and they finished with 16. The Gauchos were often unable to get their attacks past the BYU front line. The Cougars finished with 17 blocks overall, highlighted by Otavio Souza's impressive line of 2 solo blocks and 10 block assists. The Cougars defense, and the poor serving by the Gauchos became the recurring motif of the rest of the match. Head Coach Rick McLaughlin summarized the match as such: "We served and passed well in the first. After that, our serving broke down and theirs got better. The passing switch-ended too. BYU is always a good blocking team, and when you make it easy on them like we did tonight, this is what happens."
UCSB dropped the second and third sets by identical scores of 18-25, before McLaughlin pulled many of his starters, including Irons and senior setter Vince Devany.
The youthful Gauchos' second unit battled admirably, highlighted by sophomore setter Oliver Deutschman's eight assists. But ultimately, BYU claimed the final set, and the Championship. Tournament MVP Taylor Sander led the Cougars with 16 kills and a .500 hitting percentage on 28 attacks.
While disappointment was evident among the Gauchos, the second place finish in the tournament could have provided a glimpse of the success UCSB could attain this season. Cullen Irons commented "we feel real good. At the end of the year, you can look for the Gauchos at the top. We didn't have it today, but it was just one bad game and we're still ready to go."
McLaughlin reiterated the Gauchos playoff aspirations, saying "The MPSF is good from top to bottom. We've got the talent to make the playoffs and that's our goal. Once we get there, we'll see what happens."
The Gauchos open conference play next weekend, Jan. 14 at UC San Diego. They play at UC Irvine the following night. The first home conference game will be held Wednesday, Jan. 26 at Rob Gym.
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The Gaucho Fund, launched as part of the Dare to Be Great strategic plan, is UCSB Athletics' annual giving program to provide vital funding support for scholarships, academic success and leadership development for Gaucho student-athletes. The Gaucho Fund is the anchor to the Dare to Be Great campaign.