Santa Barbara, Calif. – The Gauchos fell just short of an upset over top-ranked BYU in the Thunderdome on Friday night, as both teams came out energized and ready to play. BYU ended up taking the win in five sets (25-20, 20-25, 25-18, 21-25, 13-15). This pushes BYU record to 20-3 overall, 19-2 MPSF. The Gauchos' record fell to 14-14, 10-12.
UCSB took early control of the first set. The Gauchos started extending the gap early on and Jonah Seif's kill gave them a five-point lead at 10-5. Nonetheless a big block from BYU's Taylor Sander put them right back in the running. Still, the Gauchos finished the first set as strong as they started it; they closed out the first set with a big block from Jake Staahl and Evan Licht.
The Gauchos had a rough second set and BYU took full advantage. UCSB committed eight service errors, including two in the crucial last points. However, the Gauchos were not discouraged and came out on fire in the third set, blocking left and right. UCSB had ten total team blocks in the third set alone, four of them from Staahl. Just as the second set did not deter the Gauchos, the third set did not hinder the Cougars. In a close third set, the Cougars pulled away at the very end, forcing the match to come down to a deciding fifth set.
The intensity of the game did not let up in the final set. The Gauchos came out blazing with a service ace from Licht and a block by Seif. After trading points, BYU tried to sneak away. The Cougars led at the switch 8-5. BYU took the next point, but the Gauchos answered with four straight points. Austin Kingi aced a serve to give UCSB the lead. Riding on the momentum, Andrew Kocur entered the game with a serving ace, bringing the stands to their feet as they erupted in applause. Everything came down to the final points as the Cougars managed to tie the set at 13-all. BYU was able to finish off the night with a hard serve from Sander and block by Josue Rivera and Russ Lavaja.
Both teams played incredibly and ended the night with 54 kills. Ben Patch led the Cougars with 19 kills and Sander was right behind him with 18. Both Sander and Ryan Boyce swept up 11 digs each. Michael Hatch led BYU with eight blocking assists.
Even with the loss, UCSB put up extraordinary individual performances. Licht put up four total blocks, eight digs, and a jaw-dropping, career-high 21 kills. Besides a remarkable 45 assists, Seif put up three service aces and 11 digs. Additionally, the Gauchos had a blocking party. Staahl ended the night with seven total blocks and seven kills. Dylan Davis finished with eight total blocks (three solo blocks) and six kills.
"We got to finish strong heading into the playoffs," commented Head coach Rick McLaughlin. "If we can play like we did tonight, I think we have a good shot at these next two opponents."
With only two games left in the regular season, the Gauchos will fight to keep up their momentum and intensity. UCSB will face USC on Wednesday, Apr. 10 before ending the regular season with Pepperdine on Friday, Apr. 12. Both matches are set to start at 7 p.m. in the Thunderdome.