After a much-welcomed light week, the #14 Gaucho men’s volleyball team looks to get back into the swing of things, hosting Mountain Pacific Sports Federation rival #6 UCLA. It will be the meeting of polar opposites, with the Bruins in fourth place in the MPSF and UCSB in ninth. Despite holding a 111-28 series advantage, UCLA is looking for revenge against the Gauchos, who defeated UCLA 3-1 in the MPSF quarterfinals last year.
“We have recovered well from a slow start and are playing our best volleyball right now,” junior setter Max Klineman said. “I’d expect to see a very long, competitive match.”
The Bruins (10-5 overall, 7-4 in the MPSF) bring in a well-rounded offense, with sophomore outside Garret Muagututia leading the squad with 3.89 kills per game and junior quick hitter Jamie Diefenbach second with an average of 2.44 kills per game. Diefenbach’s team-leading hitting percentage of .456 is good for second in the MPSF, and his team leading 1.29 blocks per game places him ninth in the conference.
“We know what to expect from [Diefenbach], having played against him about 10 times in the last two years,” Klineman said. “He is good, but UCLA is notorious for using their entire travel squad, so we know it is possible that he may not even play the whole time. We do need to respect what he has done so far this season.”
Defensively, the Bruins also have a one-two attack. Diefenbach, who leads the team in blocks, is usually joined at the net by junior quick hitter D.J. Stromath, who averages 1.00 blocks per game. As a team, the Bruins are not a strong blocking presence, averaging only 2.68 blocks per game, which places them seventh in the conference, ahead of the Gauchos and their 2.62 blocks per game average. It is the offense, led by freshman opposite Jeff Menzel, that is the Gauchos’ main tool. Menzel, who is ranked second in the conference in kills per game, leads the Gauchos with an average of 4.91 kills.
“Jeff is an amazing athlete with great drive,” Klineman said. “He loves getting kills and swings very, very hard. He is someone that I look to at the end of games to finish and win games. He has a great future, but what he is doing right now as a freshman is really impressive to me.”
While the Gauchos hope to see a big crowd out for the game tonight, they are hoping they bring a few extra shoes. The UCSB men’s volleyball team will be holding a shoe drive, with all proceeds to be donated to the Soles4Souls program. The Soles4Souls program, a nonprofit organization, sends shoes to five different continents.
“I decided to organize this drive after seeing how many extra shoes our team has in our locker room that are not getting used, but still have wear left in them,” Klineman said. “I thought that our team could do something better with them besides throwing the shoes away.”
The Gauchos and the organization ask for “gently used” shoes or better, meaning shoes that are in good condition and can still be worn.
“I would like to see the athletic community, as well as UCSB and Santa Barbara, embrace this cause and think about what they can do to help,” Klineman said. “This is an easy way for anyone to change another person’s life in a positive way.”
First serve is at 7 p.m. and shoes can be deposited in a bin in front of Rob Gym before and during the game.