Stacked with seniors, the UCSB men’s volleyball team looks poised to make a run for the national title. The Gauchos won the UCLA SAC tournament in November and closed the fall preseason with a record of 5-2.

[media-credit name=”Daily Nexus File Photo” align=”alignleft” width=”221″][/media-credit] UCSB finished 10th in the nation last year and ended the season with a loss to conference rival Hawaii. The Gauchos return six starters from last year’s seven-man squad, which will provide an advantage as they battle through the most competitive conference in the country.

“The MPSF [Mountain Pacific Sports Federation] 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.”

The league has been so dominant that over the course of the 40-year-old NCAA tournament for men’s volleyball, 37 champions have been MPSF teams. Led by conference Player of the Year junior Brad Lawson, National Champion Stanford will try to defend both MPSF and NCAA titles from 2010.

“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.”

Senior outside hitter Jeff Menzel leads the UCSB men’s volleyball team in kills and attack attempts. Senior libero Andy McGuire and senior setter Vince Devany are team captains.

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

In the annual UCLA SAC Tournament on Nov. 30, the Gauchos defeated Cal State Northridge, USC and UCLA in the final round to capture the title. The tournament was the last competition of the fall pre-season.

UCSB plays top-ranked Canadian team Laval University in an exhibition match tonight at Robertson Gymnasium before hosting the UCSB Invitational tournament on Jan. 7-8. The Gauchos open MPSF conference play at UC San Diego on Jan. 14.