SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Entering Thursday night’s match against No. 12 UC San Diego, No. 8 UC Santa Barbara needed just one win in their final six matches to secure a spot in the MPSF postseason tournament. UCSB did not waste any time at all, dropping the Tritons 25-17, 25-19, 25-17 to clinch a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2007, when they advanced all the way to the semifinals before falling to top-ranked Pepperdine.
With the win, the Gauchos improved to 13-10 overall. The Gauchos are now 8-2 in matches following a loss. UC San Diego dropped to 8-17.
Since UCSB has not reached the postseason since 2007, the playoff berth was the first for most involved in the program.
“It’s been the goal since day one,” head coach Rick McLaughlin said. “To miss out on the playoffs by one game last year made us want it that much more.”
Senior outside hitter Jeff Menzel echoed his coach.
“We should have been there the last three years, but it’s good to be there this year,” he said.
UC San Diego struggled without senior setter Phil Bannan, their leader in both assists and service aces. The Gauchos held the Tritons to a lowly .075 hitting percentage, including a team-high .182 clip on eight kills from Shane Veiga.
UCSB won the first set on the back of two long service rallies from senior oposite Cullen Irons. Though he recorded just a single ace on the night, Irons made it difficult for the Tritons to pass his serves to setter Mike Brunsting. UCSD hit just .034 as a team for the set, while UCSB also received strong games from Slaughter, who recorded three of his four blocks in the first frame, and senior libero Andy McGuire, who accumulated four of his nine total digs in the first set.
In the second set, the game became a little more fluid, as both teams recorded their highest hitting percentages in the second set- UC San Diego at .350 and UCSB at .579. That .579 clip from UCSB also included an 89 percent conversion rate on sideout points. Dylan Davis had five of his seven kills in the second game, while senior setter Vince Devany had 14 of his 37 assists in the second set.
The third set was all the Gauchos, as they never once relinquished the lead they established on the first point. Senior outside hitter, who came in to relieve Irons, recorded six kills in the set, the highest amount of kills recorded in a single set by any player in the match. Freshman middle blocker Evan Licht chipped in another four in the decisive set.