Senior outside hitter Salvatore La Cavera III is the first to admit his team might not have as much physical talent as they had in past seasons. But this year the Slugs have something more important than talent — they have the will to compete.
“We have guys who pretty much foam at the mouth to play volleyball,” La Cavera said. “We’ve had a surplus of physical talent in years past, and this year we definitely have enough talent but we have guys who fight hardest when we get in very pressurized situations like the semi-final game [against Carthage College]. We have guys who love that chaos and aren’t afraid of it, which in my book outdoes talent any week.”
The Slugs beat Carthage College 3–1 and Fontbonne University 3–0 to advance to the semi-final round of the Continental Volleyball Conference (CVC) tournament. Carthage was on a 14-game winning streak prior to playing UCSC. La Cavera led the team with 17 kills in the game against Carthage. He was named the Sports Imports/AVCA Men’s Division III National Player of the Week in March.
The Slugs earned the No. 1 tournament seed with those wins and beat Stevenson College 3–2 to earn a spot in the championship game. Against Stevenson, La Cavera made 23 kills and libero Mauro Salinas made 25 digs. La Cavera, Salinas and outside hitter Jake Landel earned spots on the CVC All West Division Team. UCSC holds the most players from one college on the Division Team of eight players.
“We feel that we can still get better,” said head coach Todd Hollenbeck. “Every day I can see our players working together to succeed on and off the court. Being the No. 1 seed is only a number. Our goals for this season are more important than numbers and rankings.”
In the CVC Championship game, the Slugs fell to Juniata College in three close sets, 27–25, 25–22 and 25–22. With the loss their record fell to 15–7, but UCSC earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament based on their Division III No. 3 national rank and high finish in the CVC tournament.
“We went up early once again in the championship game but Juniata rallied to win the set on a couple of amazing plays,” La Cavera said. “Again we hesitated to make a move, and with the momentum that they had gained, the game never slowed down enough for us to catch back up. Our preparation for the NCAA tournament will be heavily based on our ability to refocus our efforts during the match and be able to counter the strengths of our opponents.”
The Slugs’ first NCAA game is April 26 against No. 2 Nazareth College, who is 31–1 on the season. The winner of the match will face off with the winner of Juniata and Rivier College in the semifinals the following day.
“If we are able to pass very efficiently then we can basically dictate the flow of the game, and that’s what we pride ourselves on and what we think that we are best in the nation at,” Mauro Salinas said. “So if we can be effective with that and work really well together on that, then it sets us up to do pretty much anything else in volleyball.”
Last season the Slugs lost to Carthage in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament but they hope this year their passion will allow them to have a chance in the championship game.
“We are a great team. Every player has a role and competes with confidence. We are focused and are ready to take care of business,” Hollenbeck said.