Amid a supportive crowd of friends and parents, UC Santa Cruz’s men’s volleyball team proved why it has earned a spot in the Molten Division III Invitational with a 3-0 win over Santa Clara in its final regular season game.
The team finished another successful year with a five-game winning streak and a 15-9 overall record (7-2 in Division III play).
Senior outside hitter Matt Smiley and senior middle blocker Max McDaniel led the way with 15 points apiece (Smiley with 12 kills and two blocks, McDaniel with 10 kills and two blocks) as the Slugs (15-9) won the three matches 30-21, 30-17 and 30-22, respectively.
Junior outside hitter Brad Sullivan emphasized that this game was a team effort.
“We had many players who don’t usually see court time who played well,” Sullivan said. “[Junior outside hitter] Lucas Bol had a stellar night, [freshman outside hitter] Bryce Mayer stepped in on key serves and [freshman middle blocker] Thomas Davidson played well too.”
The atmosphere was energetic in the West Field House Saturday night as teammates exuberantly cheered each other on, clapping at every point scored and chanting the server’s name. Fans in the bleachers, many of whom had turned out for Senior Night in support of the four graduating team members, rooted for the men’s volleyball team.
The Slugs played like it was the championship game of the Molten Final Four. They challenged hard from the first serve of the game through the last set point advantage, jumping high in the air and diving onto the hardwood to save the ball.
And while the Broncos were competitive, they could not keep up. They gave up easy points by hitting the ball out-of-bounds or into the net. On more than one occasion a Santa Clara player would call for the ball, only to jump too early or too late and miss it altogether.
Santa Clara came out playing better in the third match. The team led more often than in the previous two matches, but it still failed to build up a significant lead. The Slugs made up the small deficits quickly, pushing a win out-of-reach for the Broncos again.
Head coach Jonah Carson acknowledged that while he appreciated the victory on Senior Night, it wasn’t imperative.
“It’s more important to recognize the team’s efforts as a whole,” Carson said.
Smiley pointed out another team priority, saying that while bringing in a win on Senior Night was important, playing well prior to the Molten Final Four was the top priority for the team.
The Slugs’ regular season success has earned them their fourth invitation in six years to the Molten Division III Invitational at Ramapo College in Mahwah, N.J.
“A great group of guys with a common goal is what makes us successful,” Carson said.
Sullivan emphasized the importance of sharing a feeling of solidarity.
“The team camaraderie was prevalent this year over past years and was vital to team success,” Sullivan said.
Carson said the team has one main objective for the Molten Final Four: to win a national championship.
“The first step is getting invited,” Carson said.
Sullivan is hopeful.
“Our mindset is to play to win, and I really think we’re going to win this year.”
Smiley said that preparation for the Final Four will not introduce anything new.
“We’re going to do what we’ve always done — work hard and play hard and refine our skills.”