With the 2008 season dwindling to a close, the #14 UCSB men’s volleyball team is fighting to stay alive for the postseason, needing to win its last three home games to win a berth into the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.
“As a team, we live to play at home,” junior middle Matt Thobe said. “From the Santa Barbara locals to our loudest hecklers, we have one of the best crowds in the MPSF. It’s an amazing feeling to have the crowd behind you, and they’re as instrumental in a win as the team kill leader.”
The Gauchos (9-15 overall, 6-13 in the MPSF) will kick off their final homestand by welcoming #9 UC Irvine (13-13, 9-10 MPSF). The Anteaters have already defeated the Gauchos twice this year, taking a 3-1 victory in January and a sweep in February.
“UCI is a solid squad but it is very difficult to beat a team three times in a row,” Thobe said. “We committed errors at Irvine that we aren’t making anymore. Our team understands the importance of every remaining match so we aren’t going to give Irvine any slack”
The Anteaters, who are the reigning national champions, bring a rounded offense to the table, with junior outside hitter Taylor Wilson leading the charge with an average of 3.98 kills per game. Freshman outside hitter Cory Yoder also is an offensive threat with a 3.26 kill per game average. Junior opposite Jon Stellar, who had 16 kills in the sweep against the Gauchos, helps diversify the offense with 256 kills in 541 attempts.
The Gauchos also have a two-pronged attack with freshman opposite Jeff Menzel leading the way as the kills leader for the majority of the matches that the Gauchos have played this season. Menzel leads the team with an average of 4.65 kills per game, an average that ranks him third in the MPSF. He is backed up offensively by senior middle blocker Theo Brunner with an average of 3.48 kills per game. Junior outside hitter Mike Runkle is quietly becoming another offensive option for junior setter Max Klineman to find. After switching from setter to outside early in the season, Runkle has improved his kills per game to an impressive 1.92 kills per game, placing him third on the squad.
“[Mike] Runkle is a very consistent, reliable player and that is comforting for our team,” Klineman said. “He also has a cannon [for an arm] and can put balls away at will.”
The Gauchos kick off the game against the Anteaters Saturday at 7 p.m. in Robertson Gym.