The #14 UCSB men’s volleyball team hopes to start its 2008 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation season off with a bang. The Gauchos (1-2 overall), fresh off a seventh-place finish in the 44th Annual Elephant Bar Classic, travels down to #2 Pepperdine for the first MPSF match of the season for both teams. The Gauchos, who lost the majority of their starters to graduation, feature only four seniors, and two returning starters.

“We [are] a new team, we’re in new positions,” said UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston. “We [are] kind of trying to figure it out as we go with new positions and figuring out the new kids and everything.”

Freshman outside hitter Jeff Menzel has stepped into the offensive spotlight for UCSB. Menzel, a Santa Barbara native, leads the Gauchos with 59 kills in 11 games, good for an average of 5.36 kills per game. Coupled with his 26 errors, Menzel is hitting at a respectable .300.

“[Jeff] was our top recruit,” Preston said. “I knew he wasn’t going to redshirt, I knew he was going to play. He’s got a real bright future if he does the right things off the court, and on the court he is a good, gifted player. He’ll only get better. He makes a lot of errors, but freshmen usually do. He’ll have sub-par matches, but he’s got a lot of talent.”

Sophomore middle blocker Sam Moisenco is also helping out the Gauchos. Moisenco is second on the team with 2.38 kills per game in eight games played, giving junior setter Max Klineman two options to dish the ball to. Defensively, Moisenco is first on the team with an average of 1.38 blocks at the net, with freshman middle blocker Scott Slaughter helping out with 1.33 blocks per game.

Pepperdine has the advantage due to the fact that it is returning its top two players: junior outside hitter Paul Carroll and senior setter Jonathan Winder, both who gained a lot of experience in the offseason. Winder, a three-time All-American, was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association and MPSF Player of the Year for the 2007 season. Carroll was named to the All-American and MPSF First Team following last year’s campaign.

“Winder is just the best,” Preston said. “He’ll be our national team setter within two or three years probably, after graduation. [He’s a] great athlete, 6 [feet] 8 [inches], a good blocker, has excellent hands and good leadership. [He was the] Player of the Year last year and the only guy to come close to being Player of the Year over him is Carroll, who just got back from the World Cup. He’s grown, put on weight, is absolutely bombing at his serve and he’ll just be a tall order to handle.”

The Waves hold the series advantage, defeating the Gauchos in 59 out of the 87 times they have met. Pepperdine has won the last four matches against UCSB, including taking nine of the 11 games last year. The Waves also hold the coaches favor in the preseason poll, as they were picked to finish first while the Gauchos were picked to finish 10th. It was Pepperdine who kicked out the Gauchos in the semifinals of the MPSF Tournament last year, defeating UCSB 3-1.

“Pepperdine’s got some young players, but they are very talented and they have the best setter in the country and the best [opposite] hitter in the country,” Preston said. “[We’re] just going to go down there and try to play hard. If there’s one thing my team’s done in three of the four matches we’ve played, it’s that they’ve played hard.”

First serve is set for 7 p.m. from Malibu.