May 5, 2011
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA - On Thursday night, the No. 3 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos edged out the No. 1 USC Trojans for the second time in five days in the NCAA Semifinals to advance to the Championship Match, which will take place on Saturday, May 7. Dylan Davis led the way for the Gauchos, as the sophomore set an NCAA tourney record with an .882 hitting percentage on 15 kills. Davis's 15 kills tied for the team lead with senior opposite Cullen Irons, who had another strong two-way game for UCSB. The win brought the Gaucho's record to 18-14. Their fourth consecutive victory, UCSB's current run represents the longest winning streak they have recorded all year. On the other side of the coin, USC (23-4) had their second consecutive loss (both against UCSB), which represented their longest losing streak of the season.
Appearing in just their fifth NCAA Final Four in school history, the Gauchos relied on a team effort to overcome USC once again. That team play was especially necessary on Thursday night, as senior outside hitter Jeff Menzel, a first-team All-American and AVCA Player of the Week, was held in check relative to his monster output in the MPSF final. Jeff finished with 13 kills and a .071 hitting percentage, the lowest both stats have been since Apr. 14 at Pepperdine. Davis's career night was the highlight for the Gauchos, as he recorded a career-high 15 kills and smashed the NCAA tourney record for hitting percentage with an .882 clip. The record was previously held by Jeff Nygaard, currently an assistant coach with the Trojans, at .867. Cullen Irons also had a night to remember, co-leading the Gauchos with 15 kills and having another strong defensive match, picking up six digs and a season-high six blocks, which also led the team. As a team, the Gauchos hit .394, nearly identical to the .395 clip in their last matchup against USC.
The second set started right where the first had ended, as Slaughter and Irons teamed up to put away the first point of the set. An ace from Menzel that put the Gauchos up 3-1 was the largest lead the team would get all set, as the teams deadlocked once again to a 20-20 tie. A Murphy Troy ace on the first extra point of the game would end the set in the Trojan's favor. The second game was almost as closely contested as the first, featuring 13 ties and three lead changes.
UCSB rebounded from losing the second game immediately at the onset of the third, claiming the first four points. That lead was not relinquished throughout the set. Dylan Davis had recorded kills on his first eight attacks, but that streak was ended in the third game, as his ninth attack was digged. The teams were relatively close up until 14-12, but the Gauchos went on a run in which they claimed 11 of the next 14 points. Davis really shined in the third, picking up seven kills- his highest single-game total of his career. Cullen Irons added three blocks.
In the fourth set, USC won the first point for the first time all night. However, UCSB came roaring right back, taking the lead 2-1 and never letting the Trojans establish a strong lead. Jeff Menzel came alive for the Gauchos in the fourth, turning in five kills, while Irons chipped in six more. Irons hit .857 for the game. It was a Menzel kill at 6-6 that sparked the Gauchos to the game, and match, victory, as they never relinquished the lead after that point. UCSB was simply content to trade points with USC after gaining some separation on the scoreboard. A Cullen Irons kill clinched the match, sending the Gauchos to the NCAA Championship Match for the first time since 1988.
Asked what it felt like to secure the game-winning kill, Irons said "It was awesome. I can hardly believe it right now. 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."
Head Coach McLaughlin reflected on the match by saying "We knew it was going to be a battle. [USC] came to play tonight. The pressure was on there for a pretty long time, but we just hung in there like these guys do. They're a tough group of guys. They won't let this season end and we've got one more match."
That "one match" will be this Saturday, at 4 p.m. PDT, against the other semifinal winner, the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Gauchos have never lost to the Buckeyes in school history. The Gauchos have also never won a national championship, so something has to give.
Like the semifinals, the NCAA Championship Match will be broadcasted live over the ESPN family of networks. ESPN2 will be providing television coverage, while the match can also be accessed on espn3.com and on the new espnmobile app.
A donation to the Gaucho Fund - regardless of the sport it supports - will be part of the One Donation is Gold system. This allows donors to purchase priority/premium seating and parking at UCSB games across several sports in addition to other benefits.
GKids is the official kids club of UCSB Athletics. Members receive a free GKids t-shirt, free admittance to tons of Gaucho games, opportunities to be ball boys and girls at games, a special birthday greeting from Olie (the GKids mascot) and much, much more! For more information on GKids, or to become a member, please click here.