Because UC Santa Cruz men’s volleyball has been so successful this season, the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) ranked it second in the country for DIII teams this week. The team started the season ranked sixth, despite being an independent team with the country’s smallest budget — sharing over $1 million with 15 other NCAA teams.

The team credits its continuous rise in rankings to a series of strong wins against competitive DII and DIII teams. Its current game record is 8-3, and the team has yet to lose a game this month.

“We’ve been facing a lot of tough seeds,” said men’s volleyball head coach Paul Leon. “Not just that but our point margin we’ve won by has been grabbing a lot of attention.”

Slugs kicked off this month with the Golden Flyer Invitational in New York. They won all four of their matches, coming in first place and only giving up one set in the entire tournament. Junior outside hitter Lake Merchen received AVCA’s national player of the week award  — which he also won last year — for his performance in New York.

UCSC beat Cal Lutheran on their home court on Feb. 11 and beat the UCSC alumni team at home on Feb. 18, both in three matches. The Slugs will close off the month against Hope International University on Feb. 24.

“This winning streak is not by coincidence,” Leon said. ”We’ve been working hard to make the fixes we need to win, and as coaches we have been working to make sure those fixes come through in every practice and every single game.”

Despite its high rankings and record, the team still doesn’t have a guaranteed spot in April’s NCAA championship. It has to compete for one of four spots for independent teams around the country.

The team has a challenging schedule ahead and it hopes to maintain its second place ranking, since the rankings change each week. It will face Hope International University in the comparatively more competitive NAIA conference on Feb. 24 and Feb. 25. Next month, the team will face Concordia Irvine in the DII conference. Despite the difficult schedule, the team still intends to focus on its skills.

“Our biggest barrier is ourselves,” Leon said. “We need to focus on the rest of our matches and the schedule we need to beat, we need to stay healthy and prepare for the second half of the season.”