The men’s volleyball team is coming off a big win over Holy Names, but are looking forward to even bigger matches this season.
Their upcoming schedule includes Concordia — the defending National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics champs, Juniata — the team who beat the Slugs in the Continental Volleyball Conference championship last season, and Nazareth — the NCAA Division III runner-ups who took out UCSC in the NCAA tournament last year — and that’s just in the next two weeks.
The Slugs improved to 2-0 in Division III (2-1 overall) with the quick 3-0 win over Holy Names on Jan. 18. UCSC dominated the first two sets and never lost the lead. The third set was more back-and-forth, yet the Slugs maintained control throughout the entire match.
“We all played as a team and it’s always good to have everyone together and on the same page,” said sophomore outside hitter Jorges Reyes. “Everything was going by the flow. This year we had a game where we played selfish, everyone doing their own thing, but this time we were playing as a team.”
Reyes tallied 12 kills and five digs as UCSC outlasted the Hawks, 25-15, 25-18 and 25-20. The Slugs were also led by senior outside hitter Jake Landel who managed nine kills and eight digs.
The team is working on serving and blocking before going into the doubleheader against Concordia this weekend, Landel said. Head coach Todd Hollenbeck agrees defense and blocking is the team’s key, as it will help them win games against strong teams.
“Concordia is going to be very good and they will be good matches for us,” Hollenbeck said. “Our passers are going to need to be on because they are going to have four jump servers and are going to be able to serve tough. We need to respond with good passing and pressure them with our jump servers.”
With 12 Concordia players on full-ride scholarships, Hollenbeck knows they will have star players and his team will have to move past some big plays and stay focused. He is confident that with strong defense and focus, the Slugs will be able to take one of two.
The Concordia Eagles beat Springfield College — the NCAA Division III defending champs — on Jan. 18 in three tight sets. UCSC is looking for a similar win over Springfield later in the season on Feb. 21 to earn an automatic spot in the NCAA tournament.
On Feb. 1, when the team starts the Golden Flyer Tournament in New York, they will play for two days packed with doubleheaders against four tough opponents.
“Due to our budget, we have to play that many teams when we travel because we are spending thousands of dollars and we have to get in as many games as we can,” Hollenbeck said. “Not many schools will come out here to play us.”
Landel said the team is still working on finding their starting squad, and the matches against Concordia will be a big indicator of who will play the following weekend in New York.
The Slugs have eight freshmen on the team who are all working to find their role. Hollenbeck said the two seniors, along with all the juniors and sophomores, have to all find their roles as leaders because the team is so young.
With a young squad and tough opponents ahead, the Slugs remain confident in their team’s ability and goal to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
“It’s different since we left our conference because we get to play harder matches, which is good, but we have to win big matches,” Hollenbeck said.