UCSB strikes down BYU in 5

Jeff Menzel pounded a match-high 25 kills and Cullen Irons added a career-best 16 as 10th-ranked UCSB came back from two sets down to upset No. 9 BYU, 3-2, Friday night in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) men’s volleyball action at Robertson Gymnasium. Scores were 27-30, 27-30, 30-27, 30-27, and 15-12 in favor of the Gauchos, who defeated the Cougars for the first time since the 2005 season.

With its first MPSF win of the young season, UCSB improved to 3-4 overall and 1-3 in league play, while BYU fell to 4-4 overall and 2-1 in the MPSF.

The fifth and deciding set was close early until the Gauchos strung together three straight points on a BYU service error and kills from Blaine Nielsen and Irons and to take a 7-4 lead. The Cougars got back to within one at 8-7, but Santa Barbara rallied to push its lead to 14-10 on a Menzel kill. BYU staved off two match points as UCSB committed a service error and an attack error, but Nielsen finished it with a kill on setter Vince Devany’s 60th assist of the night, which tied his career-high.

Although only posting a .255 (71-35-141) overall hitting percentage for the match, the Gauchos stepped it up in set five, hitting a match-high .412 (9-2-17). The Cougars finished at .253 (67-28-154) overall.

“I thought some of our guys made the necessary adjustments on their own,” said first-year UCSB head coach Rick McLaughlin. “We made improvements in our blocking and our hitting tendencies. We played to our strengths.”

Menzel, who had 51 swings on the night, also added nine digs and two blocks. Irons hit .300 with 16 kills and seven errors in 30 attempts. To add to his career night, Irons also posted seven digs and four blocks. Scott Slaughter hit .500 with nine kills, while Devany and libero Andy McGuire each had a match-high 11 digs.

The Cougars were paced by Andrew Stewart, Mat Taylor, and Futi Tavana, who posted 17, 16, and 15 kills, respectively. Tavana, who finished at .583 (15-1-24), was hitting well over .800 in the first two sets.

The last time UCSB had beaten BYU was on Apr. 23, 2005 during the MPSF Tournament in Provo, Utah, also a five-set match. The Cougars had won the last six tilts between the two schools.

“We really needed it (the win) big time,” said McLaughlin. “The guys have done good things in practice and we were finally able to come out and do good things in a match.”

The two squads will go at it again Saturday at 7 p.m.