By Samantha Thompson
Last weekend, the UC Santa Cruz men’s volleyball team, the only Division III team west of Chicago, hosted and won the first-ever Slug Dome Invitational Tournament.
During the regular season, the Slugs usually find themselves battling against Division I teams due to the lack of Division III teams nearby. The tournament, in which the Slugs topped NYU, Medaille, Carthage, D’Youville and Stevens Institute, was the team’s only opportunity to compete against DIII teams until the West/Midwest Regional in Milwaukee in late March and – assuming the team makes it – the Molten Final Four in April.
Last year, the team fell to Juniata College in the Molten Final Four in the championship match, finishing 7-10, but 5-2 against DIII teams.
On Friday and Saturday night, devoted fans packed the West Field House screaming chants, bearing signs and wearing home made T-shirts to show their support. Even Sammy the Slug, UCSC’s mascot, made it out to the games to pump up the crowd.
"It was really just a chance for six of the best teams to play each other," Head Coach Jonah Carson said.
The team played three matches on Friday, taking down their biggest rival, Carthage, in a tiebreaking fifth game.
The last match of the tournament against NYU brought out the kind of play the Slugs have been honing in practices and preseason games.
"The way we played tonight is the way we need to play all season," Carson said. "We played with a good level of intensity and an excellent level of execution."
Assistant Coach Kirt Peterson was unsure how the team would match up after the long preseason but was also pleased with the team’s level of play.
"We used a lot of different lineups," Peterson said. "The guys really stepped up and it was very much a team effort."
With five DIII wins now under their belt, the Slugs seem poised to make it back to the DIII Final Four. Three of the four teams in that tournament are invited-one from the East Coast, one from the Northern Division, and one from the West/Midwest, along with an automatic berth for the host team. In order for UCSC to secure the West/Midwest berth, the Slugs have to compile as many quality DIII wins as they can during the regular season.
The big win against Carthage on Friday night brought the team one step closer, as Carthage is one of the best DIII teams in the nation.
"I’m just really proud of the way we played," said sophomore Max McDaniel. "The way we’ve come together is better than ever before."
The Slugs were hesitant to look too far ahead, preferring instead to focus on whoever lines up on other side of the net.
"One of the things that is really important to us is to be competitive," Coach Carson said. "Compete in every practice. Compete in every match."