The UCSB men’s volleyball team is heading into a crucial stretch of the schedule, as conference play will continue to heat up rain soaked Rob Gym this weekend.

The Gauchos (1-5 overall, 0-3 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) will try and break their three-match losing streak, with games against two fellow MPSF teams, and attempt to capture their first conference wins of the season. Today, the Gauchos will play host to new and improved #6 Stanford (5-2, 2-2 MPSF) – a team that has rebounded well from last years dismal 3-25 season.

“Stanford is much improved this season,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said. “They have struggled for years in a row now and their guys have been around. Their senior outside hitter Matt Ceran and [sophomore opposite] Evan Romero are the main guys that we will have to neutralize.”

Ceran and Romero are the leaders of the potent Cardinal offense, averaging a combined 7.9 kills per game to go along with 14 aces on the season. Mirroring these two offensive threats will be the Gaucho combination of freshman outside hitter Jeff Menzel and senior middle blocker Theo Brunner. In just his first year at UCSB, Menzel has been a revelation for the Gauchos, averaging a team high 5.45 kills a game. Brunner, last year’s First Team All-MPSF award recipient, has been off to a slow start this season. While still ranked second on the team with 2.44 kills a game, a switch in position may be to blame.

“Theo had been playing outside, but we moved him back to middle last game,” Preston said. “He needs to be a 20 to 25 kills-a-match guy; we just need to set him more.”

On Saturday UCSB will welcome the Pacific Tigers (0-6, 0-4 MPSF) to Rob Gym, the same team and location where the Gauchos recorded their sole win of the season. In their previous meeting, the Gauchos came out swinging, en route to a four-game victory. By way of a .392 team hitting average and 50 assists by junior setter Max Klineman, the Gauchos out-hit, out-blocked and out-played Pacific – a result the team hopes to replicate.

“When we played [Pacific] before, they were missing some players and we had a different lineup,” Preston said. “We had some good performances that game and were able to out-block them. I just hope they don’t block against us on Saturday.”

The Gauchos are currently in 11th place out of 12 teams in the MPSF, but hope to move up in the standings in what has proven to be a conference loaded with talent.

“Right now we are in the cellar,” Preston said. “Talent-wise, I think we can win. Menzel has been great, but has his freshman errors and the rest of the team is fairly seasoned, it’s just a matter of putting all together.”

Both games are scheduled for a 7 p.m. First serve and will be held in Rob Gym.