It will be the end of an era for the #14 UCSB men’s volleyball team, as the Gauchos will say goodbye to four seniors and one head coach while facing their final two opponents of the 2008 season. Santa Barbara (9-16 overall, 6-14 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) will welcome #4 Long Beach State Friday and UC San Diego on Saturday.
While Long Beach (21-5, 16-4 MPSF) has already clinched a playoff spot in the MPSF Tournament, the 49ers are on the search for the regular season title and the chance to host the tournament. The 49ers can finish no lower than a third seed, and with their 21 overall wins, Long Beach has had their fourth 20-win season in the past five years. The 49ers’ success could be attributed to their one-two punch in senior outside hitter Paul Lotman and sophomore opposite Dean Bittner. Lotman is ranked third nationally with his 5.53 kills per game average, and his career total of 1,352 kills places him 8th in the Long Beach annals. Bittner joins Lotman on the national stage, ranking fifth with an average of 4.77 kills per game.
“Both [Lotman and Bittner] are great hitters and create a sort of two-head monster for Beach with one hitting on the left and one on the right,” junior setter Max Klineman said. “Lotman is their key player though and slowing him down is important.”
As a team, the 49ers are ranked second in the nation with a team attack percentage of .321. Sophomore middle Dan Alexander leads the 49ers – and ranks fourth in the nation – with an attack percentage of .500. Bittner also leads the 49ers defensively with an average of 1.46 blocks per game, good for fourth in the nation. The Gauchos lost to Long Beach in five games earlier in the season.
“This is a team that we matched up with extremely well earlier in the year,” Klineman said. “We believe we have a great shot of beating them.”
UC San Diego (10-17, 6-14 MPSF) is a completely different story in terms of its record, but the Tritons enter this weekend tied for 10th place with UCSB. San Diego’s 10 wins this season is the most wins the Tritons have had, and that is mainly because of sophomore outside hitter Jason Spangler, who leads the Tritons with 4.54 kills per game. The Tritons swept the Gauchos earlier in the season at home, one of the many road slips for the Gauchos, who have a 1-8 record away from home.
“It helps us to play this match at home,” Klineman said. “But we still need to be ready for a battle”
Saturday’s match against the Tritons will mark the final collegiate game for four seniors in libero Ben Brockman, outside hitter Mike Fisher, outside hitter Phil Mathews and middle blocker Theo Brunner. Brunner, a four-year starter, will be missed defensively as he is second on the Gauchos with an average of .93 blocks per game and is first with an attack percentage of .375. In addition to the four seniors, Saturday’s match also marks the end of the reign of Head Coach Ken Preston, who will be retiring after this season. In Preston’s 30 seasons, he has accumulated a record of 515-380, a .575 winning percentage.
“[Preston] is an awesome coach and has shaped this program entirely,” Klineman said. “He pushes us everyday in practice to hustle for the long ball, something that is uncommon among other teams. He is someone that I look up to as a person outside of volleyball.”