Some of the top men’s volleyball teams in the nation visit Santa Barbara this weekend as UCSB hosts the 2011 Gaucho Collegiate Invitational on Jan. 7 and 8. Seven of the eight competing teams are ranked in the top 15, including #2 UC Irvine, #5 BYU, and #9 UCLA.

“This tournament will be a deciding factor on how we stack up with the rest of the conference before the season starts,” senior middle blocker Scott Slaughter said. “A lot of these teams are ranked higher than [we are].”

The #10 Gauchos come off a dominating home victory over top ranked Canadian college Laval of Quebec in an exhibition on Tuesday. After the starting lineup won the first two games, the bench secured a 3-1 victory in the fourth game.

“I was happy how we came out ready to play and jumped on them,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “We will rely on our bench this year. A lot of those guys could be starting too. We will use those guys a ton.”

UCSB beat UCLA in the final round of the UCLA SAC tournament in November to capture the title of the competition hosted by the Bruins. The Gauchos now have a pre-season record of 6-2, and look to carry over the momentum into the regular season. The 2011 Gaucho Invitational is the last competition of the pre-season.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time playing together, getting good team chemistry,” senior outside hitter Cullen Irons said. “I think we’ll see some results this weekend. We’re looking forward to some real good competition.”

Part of that competition will be #12 Cal State Northridge, which is looking to defend its back-to-back titles of the Gauchos’ tournament. UCSB will look to improve upon last year’s disappointing eighth place finish and will open up the tournament against the Matadors. That match will take place today at 10 a.m. in Robertson Gym. The final round will be held on Saturday.