The UCSB men’s volleyball team welcomed the Calgary Dinos to Santa Barbara by shutting them out in three close games last night at Rob Gym.

“I thought we were a little rusty but had good team chemistry,” Head Coach Ken Preston said. “We played with a lot of energy tonight.”

Returning for Santa Barbara from a season-ending injury suffered last year was setter Bart Kowalski. The six-foot junior tallied 45 sets and two kills over the course of the contest.

“He brings a lot of energy to the game,” Preston said. “He drives the guys and plays well.”

“I worked hard this summer.” Kowalski said. “It was great to get back out there with these guys. I love this team.”

A third of Kowalski’s sets went to middle blocker Michel Kennedy, who tallied 15 kills on the night and whose powerful hits often drew loud cheers from the crowd.

“Tonight was actually the worst we’ve been connecting ever since we’ve been back in the gym,” Kowalski said. “I definitely expect that the middle will get better over the season.”

The 6’7″ 240-pound senior dominated the first set, leading all attackers with six kills. Kennedy, combined with his former Highland High School teammate sophomore setter Bryan Berman and senior outside hitter Nate Wack, tallied 14 of the team’s total 17 kills in the first set. Berman and Wack had four each.

“[Berman] does a lot of things,” Preston said. “He passes well and he’s a pretty good hitter.”

Santa Barbara finished the Dinos off in the first game 30-21.

The visiting Dinos spent the early parts of the day swimming in the ocean. The chilly day’s weather was pleasant in comparison to the recent tournament they wrapped up at the end of November in Saskatoon, Canada, where they played in minus 33-degree weather.

Calgary received the bulk of its offense from middle blocker Eric von Engelbrechten, who tallied 16 kills on the night, half of those in the final set that Santa Barbara won 32-30.

UCSB freshman middle blocker Theo Brunner had a memorable night for his first-ever collegiate game. Brunner tallied 11 kills on just 16 attempts.

“He’s a real great athlete,” Preston said. “He’s 6’7″ and can touch 11’7″… He’ll just get better and better.”
The Gauchos come away from this game with their eyes on what needs to be improved.

“Our blocking could have used some help,” Preston said. “We didn’t get much performance out of our opposite tonight, either Evan or Adam, but that will come.”