At the close of what has been an up-and-down season, the UCSB men’s volleyball team has one last chance to go out on a high note Friday night.
The Gauchos are set to take on Cal State Northridge in the friendly confines of Robertson Gymnasium for their season finale, and in the process will honor seniors Mike Runkle and Matt Thobe, both of whom have contributed five years to the squad.
“Starting with Runkle, he’s played almost every single position on the court,” sophomore middle blocker Scott Slaughter said. “He’s been all over the place.”
As for Thobe? “He’s always giving people pointers,” Slaughter said. “Having these two guys on the team has really made a big impact.”
The Gauchos (8-18, 4-17 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) currently hold the 13th spot in the national rankings and will be heavy underdogs to the third-ranked Matadors (22-6, 15-6 MPSF). UCSB, however, is far from intimidated.
“We basically have nothing to lose,” Slaughter said. “So, we’re going to go out there and give it everything we’ve got.”
But besting Northridge will be far from easy. CSUN has won the last five matchups between these squads, including a 3-0 drubbing in Northridge earlier this season. But if the Gauchos are going to pull off the upset, they are going to need heavy offensive production from their two juggernauts: sophomore outside hitter Jeff Menzel and sophomore opposite Cullen Irons.
The duo tied for the team lead in kills against UC San Diego last week with 17 kills apiece, and Menzel broke his career high in blocks with nine. However, it was not enough to defeat the Tritons, and UCSB fell in five sets. The game before, against Long Beach State, Menzel rocked the 49ers for 26 kills, but it proved to be in vein as Long Beach still came away with a four-set win. On top of offensive production, UCSB will need to be at their best defensively as well this weekend.
“It starts with our serves, we’re just going to go bombs away,” Slaughter said. “If we can get our serves going, it’s going to give us a lot of opportunities on defense.”
Despite being eliminated from tournament play, the Gauchos have a lot to play for this Friday. First of all, an upset over Northridge would go a long way to prove that UCSB has the talent to match any team in the conference — something that it has been on the verge of all season long. In fact, Santa Barbara has dropped five matches in five games. If those had gone UCSB’s way, Head Coach Rick McLaughlin’s squad would have been at a respectable 13-13 mark overall, potentially fighting for a spot in the playoffs.
Perhaps more importantly, Friday night gives UCSB a chance to build confidence for future seasons. After all, this team only graduates two seniors and will have the heart of its lineup back and ready to make a run next year.
“We’re hoping to show everyone that we’ve had a rough season… but for the next two years you’re going to having watch out for us,” Slaughter said.
The game is slated for Friday at 7 p.m. in Rob Gym. Tickets are free for students and faculty.