By Troy M. Ortiz

One spike, kill and ace at a time, the Slugs climbed the nation’s charts. Finishing the season with an overall record of 14–10 and 8–1 in Division III, the UC Santa Cruz men’s volleyball team prepares to compete for a national championship title for the third time in five years.

Playing against the visiting Holy Names University last Friday, the team demonstrated the depth and endurance that propelled them into becoming a DIII heavyweight.

Trailing by four with the first game at stake, the team rallied back for the victory. Coach Jonah Carson would later point to that rally as emblematic of his team’s character, work ethic and competitive drive.

The second game was decidedly less competitive, as Holy Names was at a loss to UCSC’s starting senior outsides: Art Mueller and All-American Bryan Shires. In the third game, amidst the chants of “Mueller! Mueller!” from the crowd, Holy Names contended early before ultimately falling to the Slugs 3-0.

The match capped a season unlike any other. The program continues to be ranked the No.1 DIII men’s volleyball team in the nation, a prominent standing proudly held for nearly a month.

Jonah Carson quietly established a championship caliber program. In 2004 the team placed third in the nation, in 2006 they placed second and missed the final four in 2007, but have since regrouped in 2008 and are primed to make a championship run.

The team was selected by a board of coaches and officials to be the lone representative of the Western/Midwest region in the Molten Division III Invitational Volleyball Championships, which will take place April 11 through 12 in Springfield, Mass.

“Every year is an adventure,” Carson said. “Last year was also a great year, as was the year before, but obviously our goal is to attend the final four annually.”

Shires’ final home game was an emotional one, he said, and while much has been accomplished, the program is very much at the inception of its status as a powerhouse.

As a four-year veteran and the second team All-American in 2007, Shires was witness to the program’s seasonal progression. He was especially reminiscent of a one-game victory the team stole in a match with DI contender UCLA, which was the first time the team ever took a game from a DI opponent and despite the loss of the match, taking that one game from UCLA illustrates the program’s potential.

“It was a great year,” Shires said. “It couldn’t have been better and this just may be the best team yet.”

At the other end of the court stood senior outside Art Mueller, another four-year veteran and two-year starter. Although the season’s end is approaching, Mueller’s attention will be tightly focused on what is at stake in next week’s tournament. The UCSC volleyball program, perhaps overlooked of late, has now come to be recognized as one of the nation’s best.

“We hope to take those final steps,” Mueller said, “to establish the program as a powerhouse within the division.”

The first of those steps was taken with their win over Holy Names last Friday night, but the final ascent will be made at nationals, where the team seeks to claim the DIII crown.