Junior Cameron Bardeau goes for a dig during a practice for the UCSC men’s volleyball team on April 12. Photo by Stephen de Ropp
Junior Cameron Bardeau goes for a dig during a practice for the UCSC men’s volleyball team on April 12. Photo by Stephen de Ropp.

At 5-foot-8-inches, junior Cameron Bardeau isn’t the tallest player on the men’s volleyball team, but his impact on the court demonstrates elite talent. As the team’s starting libero, Bardeau serves as UC Santa Cruz’s defensive anchor while facilitating the offense — a strategy the Slugs used to punish their opponents en route to their 19-7 record.

Bardeau’s stats are extraordinary for a player’s first year as a starter. Leading the team this season with 202 digs and 94 saves, he was promoted as the starting libero in his third season after the all-American Jake Hurwitz graduated.

“Being a backup for my first two years on the team was frustrating, but I took it as a learning experience,” Bardeau said. “I was living in the shadow of the starting libero. I wasn’t allowed much playing time, but I did learn a lot of things watching Jake that made me a better libero today.”

Bardeau began playing the sport and developed an appreciation for volleyball’s competitive nature after watching his dad play beach volleyball. Growing up in Hermosa Beach, Bardeau would head to the sand to play pickup games.

His competitiveness grew from playing with his dad’s friends to playing rival teams in high school. In the highlight of his high school career, Bardeau’s Mira Costa High School trailed Loyola High School 2-0 in a sold-out gym at Loyola Marymount University. His team surged back to win the match in three straight sets.

“The rivalry has intense games,” Bardeau said. “When the game-winning ball went down in the fifth set, the arena went into a frenzy. It was the best comeback I have ever been a part of.”

UCSC interim head coach Paul Leon said Bardeau’s ability to remain composed in high-pressure situations and challenges is what makes him stand out.

“Bardeau leads by example,” Leon said. “Not only is he one of the first players in the gym to help set up nets before practice, but he’s also the last player to leave in order to lift and stretch.”

An effective libero needs sharp hand-eye-coordination to execute passes and digs and to guard the most vulnerable portions of the court. It requires great communication, though Bardeau is known for his quiet personality off the court.

“He is generally silent, but speaks with his performance and makes everyone’s job so much easier because he takes over most of the court,” said sophomore setter Shad Harris, who’s been Bardeau’s teammate for two years.

Leon credits Bardeau for his crucial role as a serve-receive passer and defender, claiming the setters would have a difficult time scoring points without his reliable passing ability. When Bardeau begins his senior season, Leon expects vast improvement.

“What led to my great performance this past month was the coaching staff helping me improve my defense, passing and my teammates’ blocking which created readable seems, leading to easy digs,” Bardeau said. “My biggest motivation for March was knowing that we were going to play three teams ranked in the top 10.”

Although the Slugs are currently ranked sixth in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, they didn’t earn a bid to the 2016 men’s volleyball NCAA Division III tournament.

The team’s seven defeats were from games against top-seven teams — Carthage College, Stevens Institute of Technology and Dominican (IL) University — which penalized UCSC.

But with only three graduating seniors, the team is hopeful to make a playoff push next year. Of the 10 teams selected to participate in the tournament, only Endicott College of the New England Collegiate Conference finished with more losses at 17-10.

“I want to continue improving and refining my skills, increase my strength and agility through my training,” Bardeau said. “My goal for next season is to have an even stronger impact on the team.”