The UCSC volleyball team plays in its weekly scrimmage on Jan. 14. With many new faces on the team, the players hope to gain better chemistry as a group and ultimately take the national title. Photo by Ryan Tuttle.

The gym is packed with fans. The team captain is arguing with the scorekeeper. The competitive fire is burning in the room. And this is only an intra-squad practice scrimmage for the men’s volleyball team.

Last season, the UC Santa Cruz Division III men’s volleyball team finished second in the nation. But since then, four seniors have graduated and five new freshmen and two junior transfers have joined the team. UCSC also hired a new head coach, Todd Hollenbeck.

So far this season, the team has lost three games and won one. But the early struggles do not seem to concern assistant coach Brad Sullivan too much.

“We’re still switching line-ups, maybe not putting in starters right away, mixing it around [and] trying to see who plays best with who,” he said.

All four of the recent UCSC graduates from the team were part of last year’s starting lineup, which gives plenty of motivation to new players to fight for starting positions.

Coach Hollenbeck, who spent two seasons as former coach Jonah Carson’s assistant, wants to continue the work of his mentor this year. So far, his focus has been on building chemistry on the new team.

“We’re putting new pieces into an old puzzle, finding the right spot for the players,” Hollenbeck said.

He hopes to have a solid starting lineup set by the end of

the month.

For now, the lack of distinction between starters and non-starters has created a much more competitive atmosphere during team practices and games.

“Everyone is competing. Everyone is pushing each other,” freshman Mike Vahradian said.

The team still needs to build trust this the season, which has been difficult because of the different formations and lineups during practices and games.

“It’s difficult to get used to each person’s set and get used to each line-up, but [the practice is] useful,” junior transfer Paul Leon said. “As a challenge we can all take it.”

The team’s outlook for this season is generally optimistic among the players.

“We’ll do really well, even though we started off slow,” said junior transfer Jake Dietrich, referring to the team’s shaky start against Stanford, Grand Canyon University and one of the team’s biggest rivals, Juniata College.

“I think we will finish first in the nation this season. That is our ultimate goal, so anything less will be disappointing,” junior Austin Kress said.

Assistant coach Brad Sullivan said that this is a talented team, but there is still more work to do.

“Most of the team is young. Inexperienced. Lots of potential rebuilding,” Sullivan said. “But this team is definitely capable to go to NCAA championships.”

With new coaches, new players and a new competitive attitude, this year’s men’s volleyball team is hoping for the same

old success.