UC Santa Cruz’s men’s volleyball team has rocketed into fourth place in the nation, winning 17 of their 21 matches this season.

“[The team’s upperclassmen] come to practice willing to get better, even though […] for them, it’s more just fine-tuning and still staying technical,” said head coach Paul Leon.

The men’s volleyball team has been working on starting games with more aggressive serves and trying to follow through with well-organized passes. To accomplish this, the team is coordinating its blocking efforts and solidifying its defense.

“We’re working on serving [to] the right people on the other side of the court,” said middle blocker Justin Fortner, referring to weaker players from the opposing team.

Leon said the team has benefitted from an “unwavering defense” and supporting offense, including particularly strong middle players.

In volleyball, middle players are sandwiched between two outside blockers and primarily block opponents’ hits on defense.

“Our middle is […] a really big threat because we run them heavily in our offense. It’s apparent because you can see other teams have scouted us. They will completely go after our middles,” setter Evan Kittle said.

The Banana Slugs beat Division III teams Brooklyn College and North Central on Feb. 2 and 3, respectively. The team fought against Division I opponent California State Northridge, playing strong against a more skilled opponent, but ultimately lost 3-0. As for individual accomplishments, the team captain and outside attacker Lake Merchen is now the all-time legal point-scoring, or “kill,” leader in UCSC volleyball history.