No. 6 UCSB Downs Stanford in Five, Advances to MPSF Final Four

Photo by Karen Hickey,
Photo by Karen Hickey,

PALO ALTO, Calif. No. 6 UC Santa Barbara advanced to the final four of the MPSF Tournament after outlasting No. 5 Stanford in five games on Saturday night at Maples Pavillion in the first round of the conference tournament. Set scores were 25-20, 25-23, 23-25, 21-25, 15-12. 

It was the second time in as many matches that the Gauchos (20-9) upset the Cardinal (19-6), as UCSB came out on top in four games in the regular season finale last week at Rob Gym.

Next up, the Gauchos will travel to Provo to take on BYU on Thursday, April 21 in the MPSF Semifinal. First serve is scheduled for 6:35 PDT and the showdown will be televised on BYUTV. The winner of that match will advance to the MPSF Championship on Saturday, April 23. 

"I'm very proud of the way our guys prepared for this match," said UCSB head coach Rick McLaughlin. "I loved the way they stuck together when it counted most. We look forward to getting another shot at BYU."

UCSB won the first two games of Saturday's contest and looked ready to cruise to a sweep, but Stanford found its footing and claimed the next two sets to send it to a dramatic fifth. The Gauchos' defense came to the fore in that decisive frame, holding Stanford to a match-low .170 hitting percentage for the set. 

The Gauchos closed the set on a 7-4 run, claiming the match when a swing from Stanford's Jordan Ewert went wide. 

Like the regular season finale, UCSB received major contributions up and down the lineup.

Senior setter Jonah Seif continued his run of strong play, recording a season-high 57 assists while picking up 10 digs for his seventh double-double of the season. The three-time MPSF First Teamer directed the Gauchos to a .358 hitting percentage. 

Other Gauchos were excellent as well, including career performances from junior opposite Matt Marsh and senior middle blocker Ryan Hardy

Marsh notched a career-high 20 kills in the contest, matching Stanford's Madison Hayden for the most in the match. Meanwhile, Hardy was a consistent presence on the quick set, knocking down a season-high 12 kills on .733 hitting. 

Elsewhere, senior outside Austin Kingi notched 16 kills while junior libero Parker Boehle was dependable as can be in the back row to the tune of 14 digs. 

The Gauchos' biggest margin of victory was in the first game, but they didn't break away from the Cardinal until late. Ahead one point at 16-15, UCSB reeled off a 5-1 run including two blocks from Ryan Hardy and kills from Austin Kingi and Hayden Boehle. The Gauchos maintained that lead until Kingi ripped a kill through the Cardinal block the clinch the set. 

UCSB's attack was at its most efficient in the second game, as the team hit a blistering .543 for the set. Kingi went off in the frame, notching eight kills while Marsh was near unstoppable himself with six kills. Meanwhile, Parker Boehle frustrated the Cardinal with six digs in the set. 

The Gauchos waited until even later to break away in the second, as they were tied as late as 22-22. UCSB shifted gears from there however, finishing off on a 3-1 run. Marsh kicked it off with a kill from the right side before Stanford's Kevin Rakestraw went into the net trying to block a Hayden Boehle swing to set up game point. Two points later, Kingi put it away again with a kill. 

Facing a sweep in their own building for the first time all year, Stanford rebounded from there, hitting .421 over the next two games to tie it all up. Madison Hayden was a chief figure in the comeback, notching six kills. 

UCSB's defense stepped up big in the final set, with three players collecting three or more scoops: both Boehle brothers and Seif. 

Tied 9-9, the Gauchos took the lead for good on a kill from Marsh and pushed their lead to two when Madison Hayden went long on a swing. UCSB stretched their lead to three on another Marsh kill, eventually claiming the match when Ewert's tip went wide. 

The Gauchos are now 5-3 all-time under McLaughlin in the MPSF Tournament. This is the third time UCSB and BYU will meet in the postseason in the McLaughlin era, with BYU winning in 2014 and the Gauchos emerging victorious en route the National Championship match in 2011.