The UCSB men’s volleyball team finished with a 3-2 record this weekend in a two-day, six-team preseason tournament at USC, good for second behind undefeated USC, and tied 3-2 with Long Beach State.
All six participants were members of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, including UCLA, Pacific and Cal State Northridge. All matches were best of three sets, with the first two to 25 points and the third to 15.
On Friday, UCSB took on Long Beach State, losing the first and second sets 22-25, 21-25, before pulling out the third set 15-12. Last season, the Gauchos split regular season play with the 49ers.
Head Coach Rick McLaughlin’s team ended the day with a victory against UCLA. UCSB split the first two sets 25-22 and 17-25 before heading into the third and final set. The Gauchos prevailed over the Bruins 15-13, securing the victory despite a 0-2 record against UCLA last year.
“You can only play the same guys over and over again in practice for so long,” senior middle blocker Scott Slaughter said. “Tournaments are important because it gives us a chance to play other teams and see their main guys and how they are playing.”
The second day of the tournament opened with a victory for the Gauchos as they defeated Northridge, another team they never defeated last season. UCSB dropped the first set 17-25, but came back strong over the next two, winning both.
In the fourth match of the tournament, the Gauchos faced off against USC. The Trojans controlled the match early as the Gauchos lost the first two sets 23-25 and 21-25 before winning the third set 15-11.
Pacific, the team’s final opponent of the weekend, was no match for the Gauchos. UCSB couldn’t overcome the Tigers in the first set, but quickly rebounded with a 25-21 win in the second. There was extra pressure for UCSB in the third set, which would decide whether or not the team would end with a winning or losing record overall. In a tightly contested game, UCSB prevailed 15-10, securing the victory.
Last season, the Gauchos finished in ninth place in the MPSF with a record of 9-13 in conference and 13-16 overall. After failing to qualify for the conference tournament a year ago, the Gauchos hope to improve this year and qualify for the tournament. To do so, the team will have to prevail over tough competition, including 2010 NCAA champions Stanford.
“I say we need a little more energy. We need to relax a little more and when we do that we play a little smoother,” Slaughter said. “I think we have a shot at going all the way, and if we improve on those little things like hitting and passing we will be a better team. Better passing will make us more efficient.”
UCSB will try to improve over last season’s disappointing finish with a veteran roster led by seven seniors. The offense will be powered by a pair of senior outside hitters, Jeff Menzel, the MPSF leader in kills last season, and Cullen Irons.
Senior middle blocker Scott Slaughter, who finished fourth in the conference in hitting percentage with a .455 mark will also be key for the Gauchos. They will be assisted by senior setter Vince Devany, who finished with 1551 assists last season, good for second in the MPSF.
Behind McLaughlin and Associate Coach Lee Nelson, the Gauchos will next face Northridge, USC, and UCLA in the UCLA SAC tournament on Nov. 19 and 20.