UCSD Volleyball: Small Fish in Big Pond

Competing in the 12-team Mountain Pacific Sports Federation among schools that count expenditures in the tens of millions, UCSD’s presence in the conference may seem like an odd clerical error left uncorrected, but it’s just the byproduct of a sport left underrepresented. There are 22 NCAA Division-I men’s volleyball teams in the country, 13 NCAA Division-II teams and 47 NCAA Division-III teams. Compare that to the 347 NCAA Division-I men’s basketball teams and the 358 NCAA Division-II men’s basketball teams. When looking at those numbers, the first thing that stands out is the obvious discrepancy in size. But the second is that men’s volleyball bucks the trend of increasing the number of programs at the Division-II level, notable because a small-budget sport like men’s volleyball should seem appealing to small-budget schools.

In any case, this leaves schools like UCSD at a major disadvantage, as organizers have chosen to lump Division-I and Division-II teams together. The decision may provide Division-II teams with a regular season, but hardly ever lends itself to Division-II postseason appearances. In 2005, the UCSD men’s volleyball team went 2–24, fell to 2–27 the following year and has made steady improvement since, topping out at 13–15 in 2009.

Needless to say, the men’s volleyball team has never qualified for the conference finals, but it has shown marked improvement within the past four seasons or so. Credit UCSD’s program, which seems to have figured a way to recruit talent that goes unseen by their big Division-I competitors. Junior starting middle blocker Sebastian Brady acknowledges the difficulties for a program with very little money to offer potential athletes. Brady figures the coaching staff makes do by looking outside of regions well known for talent (like Los Angeles and Orange County), instead picking up players who may fly under the radar, like Garrett Dempsey (Illinois) and Kevin McGinnis (Missouri).

Ever the underdog — the Tritons were picked to finish dead last in the MPSF this season — UCSD seems to have the cut of a team that could break above .500, or even make a playoff run. Brady believes UCSD may play the spoiler in 2013, with every player from last season’s roster returning, including Vaun Lennon and Carl Eberts, two players acknowledged at the national level for their performances in 2012.

If for nothing else but the chance to see another upset like UCSD’s win against UCLA last season, I would sneak a men’s volleyball game in this season. Everyone likes an underdog, and nothing says underdog like UCLA’s 66 million dollars to UCSD’s 7.3 million.