Despite going the full five sets in four of its last five matches, a hard-luck UC Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team (3-7 overall, 1-6 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) rides a four-game losing streak heading into tonight’s matchup versus Pacific. Thankfully for the #13 Spikers, they are facing a disastrous Tigers (2-12, 0-9 MPSF) team that remains winless in the conference nearly halfway into the season. To add to the Gauchos’ good fortune, they hold the mental edge over UOP heading in as they have won the past six contests held between the two squads, including a convincing 3-1 triumph in the Elephant Bar Invitational to kick off their 2009 campaign.
Leading the Gaucho attack is sophomore outside hitter Jeff Menzel, who has firmly established himself as one of the top players in the nation at a position that he transitioned to just this year, averaging 5.47 kills per set, good for fourth in the country. The second-year star has received consistent support from sophomore middle blocker Scott Slaughter, who leads the nation with a .484 hitting percentage. Slaughter has also contributed on the defensive end, ranking in the top-five nationally with 56 blocks manning the middle.
The team’s overall defensive effort has been looking better with each passing game, shown through a season-high 62 digs against #3 UC Irvine in the most recent heartbreaking loss. Over a third of those 62 digs came courtesy of senior outside hitter Mike Runkle, who has done a great job filling in for injured starting sophomore libero Andy McGuire. Whether or not McGuire is ready to make his return tonight, there is no doubt Head Coach Rick McLaughlin will be confident in whoever dons the patented libero blue.
In addition to the Gauchos’ improved court coverage, the passing game has been looking very crisp as of late. Words cannot describe the influence sophomore setter Vince Devany has had on recent games. After setting career-highs in assists twice this season, Devany, who is currently seventh in the nation with an average 12.82 per set, notched a new career-high of 69 assists against UCI.
Santa Barbara is making a return to Robertson Gymnasium also, as its last two scheduled home games came in the Thunderdome, with Mother Nature taking her toll on Rob’s roof. Though playing on an unfamiliar court led to two losses, UCSB is prepared to give the home fans something to cheer for playing one of the MPSF bottom feeders tonight, with first serve set for 7:00 p.m.