Menzel, Irons lead Gauchos over No. 3 Stanford

UCSB setter Vince Devany had a double-barreled shotgun at his disposal in the form of fellow seniors Jeff Menzel and Cullen Irons on Friday night. He dished off 36 sets to Menzel and 37 to Irons, and both barrels hit the bull’s eye repeatedly en route to jaw-dropping numbers in a 25-22, 23-25, 25-23, 25-16 win over defending national champion Stanford at the Thunderdome.

Irons, swinging from the right side, amassed 23 kills with just three errors for a .541 hitting average, while Menzel hit .583 with 26 kills. As a team, the No. 6 Gauchos (14-12, 11-9 MPSF) posted a remarkable .491 clip against the nation’s third-ranked team.


“It was a great Senior Night for them. They’re just talented players who are seniors, and they understand the game at this level and played great,” said Stanford coach John Kosty, who played at UCSB under Ken Preston. Preston was in attendance at the match and received a hearty ovation after his upcoming induction into the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Hall of Fame was announced.

For current UCSB coach Rick McLaughlin, Friday’s win was a big relief after a lackluster defeat to No. 15 Pacific the night before. It relieved any fears of complacency after his team lost two straight matches since clinching a playoff berth on March 31.

“I think that was a wake-up call for all the guys,” he said of the Pacific loss. “They were, you know, attention to detail tonight all the way, every little thing. Guys from the bench were yelling out what our scouting report had. It was just a total team effort.”

The Cardinal (17-8, 13-7 MPSF) got 13 kills apiece from Brad Lawson and Spencer McLachlin. The match was extremely close, with no lead greater than four points until the Gauchos caught fire midway through the fourth set. Trailing 11-10, Menzel picked up three straight kills. McLachlin put one away for Stanford before Irons responded with two of his own to force a Stanford timeout with UCSB ahead 15-12. Menzel came out and fired off an ace on the next point, as Kosty immediately spent his second timeout. Menzel would miss his next serve, but he and middle blocker Scott Slaughter would lead the charge down the stretch to put the match away.

Slaughter had back-to-back blocks and also blasted a hit off of an opposing blocker’s face before the contest ended on a left-side kill from Menzel that hit the floor untouched.

“It was Senior Night, so what else could we do?” said Menzel, a native of Santa Barbara. “We’re pretty much all seniors except for Big (Dylan Davis). Everybody was putting the ball away and passing well. We never got down on ourselves.”

UCSB trailed 16-13 in the first set but would take the lead at 20-19 on a Stanford hitting error. Libero Andy McGuire followed with a rally-saving pancake dig on the next play, which Menzel ended on a kill, and Slaughter perfectly timed a slide-set with Devany as the Gauchos took the frame. The hosts trailed the entire second set, although an ace by Trey Valbuena pulled them within a point at 24-23 in the final moments.

The Gauchos found themselves in deficits in the heart of sets three and four before coming back to win.

The two previous losses eliminated their chance for the fourth seed and a home match in the upcoming MPSF Tournament. UCSB will play road matches at Pepperdine and USC before the postseason begins.