Gauchos take down USC, earn trip to Final Four

LOS ANGELES — UCSB’s seniors refused to lose.

As a result, the Gauchos are going to the NCAA Final Four at Penn State.

UCSB’s senior-laden men’s volleyball team rallied from a 2-1 deficit and upset No. 1-ranked USC in the MPSF Tournament Final on Saturday night at the Galen Center. The scores were 20-25, 25-23, 21-23, 25-18, 16-14.

The win sends the Gauchos to their first Final Four since 1988. USC will join them there as the regular season champion of the MPSF. Penn State and Ohio State are the other semifinalists.

UCSB’s only way to make the Final Four was to win the MPSF Tournament. The Gauchos were 11-11 in the conference and seeded seventh in the tournament. They did it with wins over BYU in Provo, Long Beach State in the semifinals at the Galen Center and the Trojans, who were 17-0 at home.

“We’re a whole different team than we were two weeks ago,” said UCSB head coach Rick McLaughlin. “Our desire has never stopped and it is all coming together at the right time. We are excited to head back to Pennsylvania.”

The Gauchos rode the play of senior Jeff Menzel. He finished with 28 kills and hit .396. Cullen Irons had 15 kills and hit .312 and Scott Slaughter had 10 kills and hit .500. Tony Ciarelli led USC with 23 kills and a .419 hitting percentage, and Murphy Troy added 20 kills and hit .275.

“We get up for big games,” said Menzel, the tournament MVP. “Once there was something on the line and we had to win, we did.”

“We don’t quit no matter what the score is. We earned every point and tonight we made them earn every point,” said Scott Slaughter.

Menzel hammered back-to-back kills to give the Gauchos a 13-11 lead in the fifth set. But USC struck back, getting a kill from Murphy Troy and blocking Menzel to tie the score.

The Gauchos (17-14) went back back to Menzel and their All-American delivered with a kill off the block for a 14-13 led.

USC (23-3) countered with its All-American, Troy, to make it 14-14.

The Trojans served the next ball out of bounds, setting up championship point for UCSB.

With Dylan Davis serving, the Trojans overpassed the ball and Scott Slaughter snapped it down, setting off a wild celebration.

“My hat’s off to UCSB,” said USC head coach Bill Ferguson. “They did an unbelievable job and are clearly still flying high. They were playing with nothing to lose. The fourth set was an aberration and we didn’t do a good job in it. If we did, it would’ve been a different story.”

Said Troy: “When you have a team playing for their life and you give them a chance, they’re going to take it. And tonight UCSB did.”

With all the upsets in the MPSF Tournament (No. 2 BYU, No. 3 Stanford and No. 4 UC Irvine all lost), the question volleyball followers were wondering was which of those teams would be awarded the at-large berth.

There was a complicated formula, but it wasn’t needed as the Gauchos took care of business with another outstanding postseason performance.


  1. Gaucho Pride!

  2. Estabrooks says

    Ole Ole Ole… Gauchos… Gauchos! We’ve waited a long time for this. Now go all the way!!