The results from last weekend’s Elephant Bar Invitational hosted by the #6 Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team are a bit deceiving. Including eight of the country’s top 15 squads, each team finished the tournament exactly how they were ranked at the outset of the competition – with the exception of #14 Pacific upsetting #13 USC.
But according to UCSB (2-1 overall) Head Coach Ken Preston, there is not quite the disparity between top-ranked teams that such results would seem to suggest.
“Irvine was clearly the best team at the tournament, but I think there were seven other teams that were good [last weekend],” Preston said. “From what I’ve seen, Irvine seemed to be pretty far above everybody else. I really don’t think there is much difference between the teams.”
A perfect illustration of Preston’s notion is tonight’s road opponent and regular season-opener, Pacific (1-2). During the not-so-distant fall preseason, UCSB split two matches with the Tigers, both of which grinded out in five games.
Further reason for concern in tonight’s top-15 bout can be drawn from the much more recent meetings with #3 UCLA. Both teams faced off with the Bruins in the Elephant Bar Invitational, and the Tigers clearly made Los Angeles (2-1) work a little harder for the win, stealing a game – and nearly a second- before they crumbled under the weight of their own mistakes.
“The reason they lost to the Bruins was because they made more errors, but they were right in the ball game,” Preston said. “I thought we played adequately against the other two teams [in the tournament] against the Bruins. We got out-served and out-passed against UCLA. And that is something we have to look at against UOP [because] they are a good passing team and they have some guys who can go back and also rip their serves.”
Much of Pacific’s strength comes from the three foreign members of this year’s squad. Senior outsider hitter Andreas Baboulidis from Germany, sophomore outside hitter Maor Nutkevitch from Israel and junior outside hitter Pekka Seppanen from Finland have done their part to make Pacific one of the most feared passing teams in the country.
“They have three foreigners who take charge [of their passing game], with one being the libero and two being the outside hitters,” Preston said. “They dig a lot of balls, so they can frustrate you by digging you and passing your toughest serve. They’re a good club [and this] is a very difficult road trip for us; we’ve only swept it once in maybe in the last 10 years.”
After tonight’s 7 p.m. rendezvous with destiny and the Tigers, the second stop on the road trip is Palo Alto tomorrow night against the 0-3 and currently unranked Stanford.
“Stanford is not quite as good [as Pacific], but every time we go up to Stanford it’s a battle,” Preston said. “The ceiling is different, the background is different and the comfort zone is different. The court is the same size and the net is the same height, but everything seems to be different on the road. You don’t get the calls [and] its just more difficult.”