The UCSB men’s volleyball team closes out the fall pre-season this weekend at the SAC Tournament hosted by UCLA Nov. 19-20. Cal State Northridge and USC round out the four-team competition.

[media-credit id=20125 align=”alignleft” width=”145″][/media-credit]The Gauchos return six starters from the seven-man squad that finished 11th in the nation last year, with senior outside hitter Jeff Menzel leading the UCSB men’s volleyball team in kills and attack attempts. Two other seniors, libero Andy McGuire and setter Vince Devany, are team captains.

“This is our best shot of winning the national championship for a long time,” senior Cullen Irons said. “We have seven seniors on the team, and that’s going to be huge for us.”

UCSB will need experience to claim the top spot of the most dominant and competitive conference in the country, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.

“The MPSF is the power league of men’s volleyball,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “It’s the equivalent to the SEC in football, or the ACC in basketball. If you do well in our league, you got a chance at the national championship.”

Of the 40 champions in the history of the NCAA tournament for men’s volleyball, 37 have been MPSF teams. Reigning NCAA national champion Stanford looks to defend its 2010 MPSF title led by the conference player of the year, Brad Lawson. The Gauchos will get a crack at conference rival USC this weekend in their last tune up before the regular season.

“USC will be very good this year. Irvine and Hawaii will be up there as well,” McLaughlin said. “Every team in our league is good. If you have an off night, you’re in trouble. No easy matches.”

In their last outing at the USC scrimmage tournament, the Gauchos won three of five matches, beating UCLA, Cal State Northridge and Pacific.

UCSB opens the UCLA SAC tournament against Northridge on Friday at 5 p.m. The Gauchos continue play on Saturday against USC at 10 a.m. and UCLA at 3 p.m.

The 2011 regular season begins with an away match at UC San Diego on Jan. 14.