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Provo • Having been raised in Carpinteria, Calif., which is just a few miles down Highway 101 from Santa Barbara, BYU men's volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead grew up cheering for the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos and attended almost every one of the school's athletic events.
That's especially true of men's and women's volleyball matches, because his father often officiated those contests.
"I am a Cougar fan first, but second I am a Gaucho through and through just because I was born and raised in that area and my parents still live right there," said Olmstead, whose sister, Heather, is BYU's women's volleyball coach. "That's where I guess I would call home."
But on Thursday night, when No. 1 seed BYU and fifth-seeded UCSB tangle in an MPSF volleyball semifinal match at Smith Fieldhouse (7:30 p.m., BYUtv), Shawn Olmstead will obviously be pulling mightily against the Gauchos, a team he calls dangerous and totally capable of pulling off the upset.
The Cougars (24-3) swept the Gauchos (20-9) in a pair of matches in early February in Provo. The scores were 25-20, 25-16 and 26-24 the first night and 25-17, 25-23 and 25-14 the second night.
But UCSB is a "different team now," Olmstead said, and he would know.
"I think they are a lot better," he said. "They are really figuring things out. They have won six in a row, and they are hitting at a high percentage over good, good opponents Stanford twice, Pepperdine, Hawaii."
While BYU was sweeping UC Irvine in the quarterfinals last Saturday, the Gauchos were upsetting the Cardinal 3-2 to advance. Second-seeded UCLA and No. 3 Long Beach State have also made it to Provo, and will face off at 5 p.m. Thursday. The championship match is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday, also at Smith Fieldhouse.
"I don't think they played their best volleyball, by any means [back in February]," Olmstead said. "They have put together a consistent season, and so we expect them to be really good. They are fighting for their lives, because they understand what is ahead of them."
In other words, the Gauchos have to win the tournament to make it to the six-team NCAA Tournament in early May; BYU is probably in, but junior outside hitter Jake Langlois said the Cougars aren't taking anything for granted. The San Jose, Calif., product said BYU just has to keep doing what it has been doing and focus on the present, a tactic that has served it well in 2016.
"We just need to play as a team, play hard," Langlois said. "If we fight, I don't think we can lose a game. If we are all there mentally, we are not going to lose a game. So, we just gotta fight."
BYU is 38-21 all-time against UC Santa Barbara, including 23-8 at home. The Cougars split a pair of matches at Long Beach State on Jan. 22-23, winning 3-1 the first night before falling 3-0 the second. They swept UCLA by a pair of 3-1 scores on April 1 and 2 in Los Angeles.
MPSF Volleyball Championships
P At Smith Fieldhouse, Provo
• No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 3 Long Beach St., 5 p.m.
• No. 1 BYU vs. No. 5 UC Santa Barbara, 7:30 p.m. (BYUtv)
• Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.