By Christopher Wilkinson

The energetic sounds of Rage Against the Machine that blasted in the East Field House Gym before the UC Santa Cruz men’s volleyball games last weekend matched the team’s performance on Friday and Saturday night.

Combined with cheers and taunts from fans who filled the gym to capacity, both high-energy nights gave all in attendance a taste of the promise for this year’s team.

The men’s volleyball team utilized its home-team advantage over the weekend to dominate both matches with back-to-back shutout victories of 3-0, respectively, against State University of New York-New Paltz and Holy Names.

“We’re stronger this year than we were last year,” Head Coach Jonah Carson said. “But it’s really about experience.”

This year, the team is fielding six returning letter winners, five of seven starters and seven incoming freshmen.

“We are getting better every season, returning as many starters as we have, including some of the upper classmen like Bryan Shires, who is an All-American,” Carson said. “We started two freshmen last year, Eric Rowell as a setter and Austin Einhorn in the middle. Having those two guys back as sophomores really helps us.”

The energy of the game against Holy Name was non-stop. The Slugs came out strong, and with strong serves from Brian Dahlmeier, they won the first three points unanswered. Dahlmeier continued to frustrate Holy Names with his serving, bringing the score to 13-8 before relinquishing the side-out.

The Slugs immediately won the serve back with a solid defense from Chris Konish, Eric Rowell, and Austin Einhorn. Dahlmeier and Art Mueller secured one point for the game with a tandem block, denying Holy Name a chance to make a comeback. That set the pace for the rest of the match and the Slugs held control for the rest of the night.

“Everyone has got a good work ethic,” senior and co-captain Brian Shires said. “Everyone is willing to show up to practice everyday. It is a big time commitment and it really helps when everyone is into it.”

Their work ethic showed. The Slugs were committed to every play, even diving at times to save points. And their hard work is complemented by a strong sense of camaraderie among team members.

“It is exciting to play with this team,” sophomore and co-captain Eric Rowell said. “We all hang out together outside of volleyball, so it is nice to play together on the court.”

Now, with these victories behind them, the Slugs are looking forward with big expectations for the rest of the 2008 season.

“[I’d like to see] us beat every Division III team,” Carson said. “There are a couple of teams that we need to beat in order to make it to the final four. Carthage is one of those, as well as Milwaukee School of Engineering. Beating those teams and every other Division III team is [what] we’re going to have to do to get to the Final Four.”

The Slugs will travel to Milwaukee this weekend, Jan. 19 and 20, to compete in the Milwaukee School of Engineering Invite where they will take on the Division III teams in hopes of paving their way to the playoffs.