The Gauchos men’s volleyball team (1-2) will play Princeton (0-2) at 3 p.m. Wednesday at UCSB Robertson Gymnasium.
Later this week, UCSB will play No. 4-ranked Pepperdine at 7 p.m. Friday at Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu.
Following a year in which the Gauchos held top-10 national rankings in kills, assists, digs and hitting percentage, the team is back on the court with a fresh lineup that will be without four of its five 2021 AVCA All-Americans.
Outside hitter Ryan Wilcox was the only non-senior to earn All-American status last year, and the only Gaucho this year to be named to the 2022 Off the Block Preseason All-American Team. The Big West Championship MVP returns for his junior campaign after leading the Big West with 35 aces and placing top-10 in kills (2.81), digs (2.14), points (3.5) and aces per set (0.47). He was a fixture in the UCSB opening-week attack against USC, leading the team in total attempts (76) and finishing second with 30 kills (3.33 K/S).
This year’s 26-man roster features six freshmen and includes seven other returners who saw playing time last year. Sophomore middle blocker Donovan Todorov excelled in the final 15 matches of his freshman season as he finished near the top of the conference charts in blocks (1.17) and hitting percentage (.456). Also included among the returners are 2019 All-Freshman middle blocker Brandon Hicks, and sophomores who combined for 27 appearances last year in libero Ryan Pecsok and outside hitter Dayne Chalmers.
After spending most of 2021 with a top-3 national ranking, this year’s Gauchos began the year with a No. 11 preseason ranking as they look to re-establish themselves as a team to watch out for in the nation.
For the second straight year, head coach Rick McLaughlin took home both the Big West and AVCA National Coach of the Year awards. McLaughlin earned his fourth career conference coach of the year honor in a year where the Gauchos went 15-5 with 13 of their wins coming against nationally ranked teams. They spent almost the entirety of the year ranked as the third-best team in the country and were top-four every week.
The Gaucho head coach led his team to its first ever Big West Championship, giving the program its first conference tournament title and trip to the NCAA Tournament in 10 years. The Gauchos went into their first NCAA Tournament since 2011 ranking top-10 in the country in several statistical categories, being fourth in kills per set (13.10), assists per set (12.33), and digs per set (10.37). They also ranked eighth or better in hitting percentage (.318), win-loss percentage (.789), and team attack per set (28.99).
Michael Jorgenson writes about sports for UCSB.