Gauchos crush USC, roll into NCAA Final

It took 23 years for UCSB to get revenge on USC and the Gauchos did it in grand style on Thursday night in the NCAA men’s volleyball semifinals at Penn State.

Dylan Davis and Cullen Irons recorded 15 kills apiece as the No. 4-seeded Gauchos stunned top-ranked USC 3-1 for the second time in six days. The scores were 29-27, 24-26, 25-15, 25-18.

Davis, a 6-9 sophomore middle blocker on a senior-laden squad, set an NCAA Tournament record with his sizzling .882 hitting percentage. His 15 kills were a career best. Irons hit .520 and had a season-high six blocks.

“It was just one of those things,” Davis said. “You’re on the court with five other guys around you and when one’s not performing the best, everyone else has to step up. I think everyone else on this team definitely showed their true game tonight and really came out with 100 percent.”

UCSB won despite an off-night from its top player, senior Jeff Menzel, who finished with 13 kills and 10 errors for an .071 percentage.

The Gauchos hit .394 for the match and walloped the Trojans in the last two sets — .381 to .154 and .500 to .231.

UCSB (18-14) has defeated No. 2 BYU, No. 6 Long Beach State and No. 1 USC twice during an amazing playoff run that vaulted the Gauchos into Saturday’s championship against No. 3 Ohio State. The Buckeyes beat host Penn State 3-1 in Thursday’s second semifinal.

The final will be televised live by ESPN2 at 4 p.m. Pacific time.

Asked if he ever imagined his team playing for the national title, UCSB coach Rick McLaughlin replied, “Yes, actually.

“The whole time we kept telling these guys that we could win a championship. Getting our backs against the wall was the key to it. Our whole goal was to get in the playoffs in the beginning because these guys had never been in the playoffs. We did that kind of early and it hurt us because we lost a little bit of our zip. We got it back at the right time because our back was against the wall.”

The Gauchos are making their first appearance at the NCAA Final Four since 1988 when they reached the final against USC in Fort Wayne, Ind. UCSB won the first two games before falling 3-2.

UCSB improved to 5-0 in NCAA semifinals. The Gauchos are seeking their first national championship in men’s volleyball.

Tri Bourne topped the Trojans with 20 kills and a .452 percentage.

USC (23-4) hurt its cause with 20 service errors an only two aces. Troy Murphy, the national Player of the Year, had 18 kills and eight service errors.

“I could see it going a bunch of different ways, but I never thought in a million years that we would go down missing twenty serves on the end line,” USC coach Bill Ferguson said . “That did us in, I think, worse than anything. When you look at our match last week with them, Jeff Menzel killed us, Scott Slaughter killed us, and we did an unbelievable job I thought, keeping Menzel hitting .071. We kept Slaughter under .300. We kept him at .250, which I thought was pretty unreal. We did a real good job there. Cullen Irons killed us and Dylan Davis was nothing short of amazing. Those two guys really gutted it. If you look at the stat lines throughout the night, we were outhitting them until, I believe, the fourth set. We were out-blocking them. But every time we got some momentum, we went back to the [service] line and missed. That gutted us.”

Andy McGuire produced 11 digs for UCSB, which fought off three set points in the first set before winning on Scott Slaughter’s block.

“We’ve just been able to battle with them and keep playing,” McGuire said “We’ve extended the rallies and when we serve the ball like we did tonight it just helps everything out and it’s kind of just in the last two matches we’ve done a great job with that.”

In the third set, the Gauchos jumped ahead 12-8 and 19-13. Trey Valbuena closed out the win by tipping an overpass for the 25-15 victory.

In the fourth set, UCSB used a 13-4 run to build a 17-10 lead on a one-hand kill by Menzel. The Trojans cut a 20-12 deficit to 22-18 before the Gauchos scored the last three points.

On match point, McGuire made a nice dig off his shoulder and Irons crushed a ball off the block and out of bounds to start the celebration.

“It was awesome. I can hardly believe it right now,” said Irons. “It’s an amazing feeling. I’ve had a down couple of weeks and finally I’m getting back into the rhythm and it’s just at the right time. It’s an amazing feeling.”



  1. Prepfan says