When Ben Koski walked onto the volleyball court he knew he had some big shoes to fill with the loss of last year’s star, opposite Kevin Collins.

Two wins into the season, Koski has earned the respect of his teammates while winning the 37th Annual UCSB Elephant Bar Tournament’s MVP. From the few times he’s been in action this season, it looks like the shoes are a perfect fit.

"He’s better than Kevin Collins was in many aspects of the game," senior middle blocker Wes Badorek said. "He’s got more ball control, better defense, and he’s a better overall team player. He brings a lot of experience to the team. He’s very athletically gifted and he’s provided us with leadership in the right-side position."

Koski started playing volleyball in the sixth grade. Deciding to stay close to home, the Santa Barbara native spent his first two years at Santa Barbara City College, where the team made it to the state finals in 1998 and the semi-finals in 1999. Through his experiences at the junior college level, Koski has learned the importance of being a versatile athlete.

"I try to be a hitter, defender, and blocker instead of focusing on one thing," the junior said. "I try to keep everyone happy on the court. It’s important to keep the game fun instead of thinking of it as a job. You’re playing to win, but also to have a good time. We had trouble with staying relaxed last year, and I’ve found that you play better when you relax."

The 6-foot-5-inch opposite spent little time on the bench during the team’s first win of the season over defending national champion UCLA. Koski notched 18 kills and three service aces in his first official performance for the Gauchos after redshirting last season.

"So far, I guess the season’s gone as good as it can go," said Koski. "But we have to look at what’s ahead of us instead of what’s behind us. We still have some huge obstacles ahead of us."

Aside from his commitment to the team, Koski enjoys fishing in his free time. But Koski can’t get too far away from volleyball. Koski lives with five teammates and the team’s unofficial mascot, a puppy named Monty. And if all goes well, Koski hopes to continue his association with the game of volleyball after graduating.

"I want to play in Europe or coach boy’s club volleyball at the high school level," Koski said.

For now, though, Ben is concentrating on this Saturday’s first regular season home match against University of California, Santa Cruz at 7:05 p.m. in the Thunderdome.