Last year the UC Santa Cruz men’s volleyball team ended its season ranked third in Division III play. While this was a significant accomplishment, this year the team is coming back with its eyes on the ultimate prize.
“The ultimate goal is to win a national championship,” said head coach of five years Jonah Carson. “And on that journey we have other things, either individually or as a team, we want to accomplish — but the big jewel is the national championship.”
Coach Carson believes the team will have to play well in several difficult junctures of the season in order to meet its aspirations of becoming a national champion team.
“We have a pretty tough schedule. We play Stanford two times, we’re going all the way to Rochester for a set of DIII games, and then Springfield College, who are ranked fourth in the nation,” Carson said. “Those matches though are key to us becoming national champs.”
Third-year middle blocker Austin Einhorn thinks that the first week of games may dictate how the team plays for the rest of the season.
“In our opening week we play four games in two days, so opening up the season strongly with a set of wins is important to our team,” Einhorn said. “It’s also going to say a lot about our character and team chemistry.”
Coming out of the first few weeks of practice, the team feels positive about the prospects for the upcoming season.
“We have a really good incoming class and a lot of returning players,” Einhorn said. “The recent practices have been really strong — some of the best I’ve been in actually — and we have a lot of good team chemistry going on.”
First-year middle blocker Jeff Matyas agrees with his teammate.
“We’re definitely a good team, regardless of whether it’s all the starters out there or not,” Matyas said. “The competition is very high around here, but so far it’s been really great. Everyone is getting along and the coaching staff has been really awesome, [and] I’m really excited about this year.”
The team’s main source of motivation comes from its success in last year’s prestigious postseason Molten Division III Invitational, where the players finished third out of four teams.
“It was a championship where we felt we could have done even better, so it’s also a real motivator,” said third-year Ronald Chau.
Coach Carson feels there are a few aspects of last season’s play that he would like to see the team improve upon this season in order to better its chances of being successful.
“We had a very aggressive service but it was a bit streaky, so we’re hoping to become more consistent in that aspect,” Carson said. “I would also like to see us come up with more blocks.”
He also believes leadership from the team’s veteran players will be key.
“We have some really great upperclassmen,” Carson said. “It’s up to the older guys to take on leadership roles for sure.”
Regardless of how the team does this season, Carson said he will take pleasure just from being able to coach the team he was once a part of as a UCSC student.
“Coaching this team is a blast — I went to school here, I played here, [and] I have been a part of the program’s growth, which really brings me a lot of joy,” Carson said. “The players really make it a great experience. They are dedicated and committed and really push themselves to very high standards as student athletes.”