Let that sink in for a moment: zero and fifteen.
Triton men’s volleyball has struggled time and time again throughout its existence, but the current season has proved particularly troublesome for the team. The men’s volleyball team has never recorded a single season with a winning record (though the Tritons came close in 1989, finishing 17–18), and still this season looks to be one of the most disappointing in UCSD history.
With last Friday’s shutout loss to Long Beach State, Triton men’s volleyball is now winless through 15 games this year. The team has only won three total sets this entire year, meaning that in most matches, UCSD isn’t even making its games remotely competitive. The UCSD Guardian staff has won the same number of intercollegiate volleyball games as our university’s squad this season, which is sad and unacceptable.
UCSD’s men’s volleyball struggles became more apparent after the school made the move from Division III to Division II in the 2000–01 season. At that time, three sports at UCSD, men’s volleyball, fencing and men’s water polo, were forced to begin competing against Division-I schools because no Division-II conference existed. The lack of a Division-II conference puts those teams in a tight spot — right now, UCSD is one of only two Division-II schools in the NCAA men’s volleyball conference. UCSD’s Division-I competitors in the conference, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, have proven themselves tough opponents — but this is no excuse for the program to continue its downward spiral. If we want our men’s volleyball team to succeed, we need to start making drastic changes to the team’s administration.
Volleyball Head Coach Kevin Ring has found it difficult for the team to achieve success. The athletic department’s website calls Ring’s 2009 squad “the most successful season in program history.” To put that in perspective, in 2009, UCSD volleyball had a .364 winning percentage in conference play, finished the season 13–15 and in ninth place in the MPSF — which seems more impressive than it is, as there are only 13 teams in the conference. Since Ring took over in 2005, the team has averaged a 10.9th-place finish. Ring’s career winning percentage, not including this year’s, is a disappointing .287 — hardly better than the .223 that previous coach Ron Larsen recorded between 2000 and 2005.
Ring is a former Triton player himself, and was named MPSF Coach of the Year in 2009 for reasons that don’t quite make sense to us. He has deep roots in the UCSD community, having earned both a B.S. in biochemistry from UCSD in 1996 and an M.S. in chemistry in 1998. But despite the coach’s decades-old relationship with UCSD, the Athletic Department owes it to the volleyball program and the university to find a coaching staff for the team that better reflects the Triton “Tradition of Excellence.”
Of the three UCSD teams that compete among other elite institutions at the Division I level, men’s volleyball is the only team floundering. Men’s water polo routinely makes the cut for the highly competitive NCAA tournament and is ranked 10 out of 20 in the NCAA. The team also went to the National Championships this year, and coach Denny Harper, whose 34-year coaching tenure has seen a .574 win percentage, was named WWPA Coach of the Year for the 2013–14 season. Perhaps due in part to the Tritons’ successes in water polo, the NCAA announced in December that the Canyonview Aquatics Center would serve as the site of the next championship. And fencing has seen similar success — at the November 2013 North/South Duals in Irvine, Calif., for instance, UCSD men’s and women’s fencing beat out Division-I contenders UCLA, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara and USC.
Water polo and fencing’s impressive performances prove that Triton success in Division-I is possible and can even be seen as an expectation — even without full athletic scholarships. If the Athletic Department is serious about making a push toward achieving Division-I status for all its programs, it needs to start acting like it, and that may mean a new coach. USC men’s basketball fired head coach Kevin O’Neill midway through its 2012–13 season after the team recorded a 48–65 overall record, far stronger than the 4–20 Ring recorded in 2012–13. Instead of being content with hovering at the bottom of the NCAA, UCSD should see the team’s Division-I standing as something to aspire to.
UCSD’s hesitance to let unsuccessful coaches go is not at all indicative of an athletic department that is committed to winning, let alone hanging up championship banners in RIMAC. Strong athletic performances can increase school spirit, alumni investment in the university and can help make us proud to be UCSD students. If UCSD is as committed to improving its programs across the board, then it may be time to rethink Coach Ring’s future with the Triton volleyball program.