Only once has a UCSB team experienced the thrill of playing for an NCAA Division 1 championship in front of a home crowd: the men’s volleyball final between the Gauchos and UCLA Bruins at Robertson Gym on May 11, 1974.
ABC’s Wide World of Sports was there to televise the event, and for the Gauchos, the result came to symbolize the second part of the network’s slogan, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” UCLA, thrice beaten by UCSB during the regular season, came back from a 2-1 deficit to win the best-of-three match in five sets.
“The pain of it never really goes away,” said Marc “Cubby” Jacobs, one of the most upbeat players on that closely knit team. “I’ll never be okay with it,” said Jon Roberts, whose rock-solid blocking stymied UCLA through much of the match. “You’ve got to accept the high highs and the low lows. Some of the best champions suffered terrible losses.”
The Gauchos did go out as champions. After the NCAA match, they went to the U.S. Volleyball Association Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee, and came home with trophies in both the collegiate and open divisions. All of the nation’s top players were in the open division — including UCLA’s stars who were on a Chucks-sponsored team — but UCSB kept its unit together and is the only college squad to take the open national title.
“We made history!” exulted Rudy Suwara, the Gauchos’ head coach. He will return to Santa Barbara this weekend and rejoin the entire 1974 volleyball team for their induction into the Gaucho Athletic Hall of Fame.
Roberts, the volleyball coach at Laguna Blanca School, and Jacobs, the public-address announcer at Gaucho basketball, volleyball, and soccer games, both live in town, as do their former teammates Skip Allen, Jay Hanseth, and Mike Maas. Other standouts included Dave DeGroot, the setter who was named outstanding player of the U.S. nationals, and hard-hitting Gerald Gregory.
With the TV lights ablaze and a capacity crowd of 3,200 in Rob Gym, the atmosphere for the NCAA final was tense and heated. “We were sweating when we walked into the gym,” Jacobs said. “There was no air.” UCLA’s legendary coach Al Scates recalled, “It was 110 degrees in there.”
The Bruins’ victory was their fourth in the first five NCAA volleyball championships. Scates went on to lead them to a total of 19 crowns. UCSB has made three more appearances in the title match, taking it to the limit (five sets) each time, but coming up short — to UCLA again in 1975, to USC in 1988, and to Ohio State in 2011.
“It’s almost impossible to win a national championship,” declared UCSB men’s soccer coach Tim Vom Steeg, who took a team that was ranked No. 1 through much of the 2004 season to the NCAA final, where Indiana outlasted the Gauchos in a penalty-kick shootout. But in 2006, with far more lowly expectations, UCSB went all the way to the top, taking down nemesis UCLA 2-1 for the College Cup title on a snow-laced pitch in St. Louis.
Those Gauchos will also enter the Hall of Fame in the 10th anniversary year of their glory. “It was crazy special,” Vom Steeg said. “We were 7-6 at one point of the season. We had to win our last Big West game to get into the tournament. We had to come from behind in our first game against San Diego State.” UCSB upset No. 1 SMU and Old Dominion on the road and defeated Wake Forest on PKs in the College Cup semifinals.
Several players are in the professional ranks and will be unable to attend the Hall of Fame festivities, including Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union) and Eric Avila (Tampa Bay Rowdies). Kyle Reynish, backup goalkeeper for the New York Red Bulls, said he will fly here after a Friday-night game.
Also slated for induction are Michael Young, a Gaucho shortstop whose 14-year major-league career included a batting title and an All-Star MVP award, and Marcie Fuller, a three-time All-American swimmer. Jared Huffman, a volleyball setter in the ’80s who is now a U.S. congressmember from Marin County, will receive the Distinguished Gaucho award. The ceremony will take place Saturday, April 30, beginning at 6 p.m. at the Lobero Theatre.
COLLEGE NOTES: This year’s UCSB volleyball team came within a whisker of another NCAA tournament bid. The Gauchos lost to No. 1–ranked BYU in the conference semifinals, 25-18, 25-22, 23-25, 24-26, 15-12. … Soccer phenom Ema Boateng, who played for Cate School and UCSB (a year before turning pro), had a goal and two brilliant assists in the L.A. Galaxy’s 5-2 victory over Real Salt Lake last Saturday. … The Gauchos shoot for back-to-back Big West titles in men’s tennis this week at Indian Wells. … Westmont College is already assured of a bid to the NAIA Baseball Championships and will host four other teams in an opening-round tournament beginning May 17. If they nail down the Golden State Athletic Conference title this week, the Warriors will also host the GSAC tournament May 9-12.
KING OF THE MOUNTAIN: Craig Zimmerman of Santa Barbara had a thrill when he pulled away from retired pro Jens Voigt after chasing him over Casitas Pass and proceeded to be the first of 500 cyclists to finish the 106-mile L’Etape California at the top of Gibraltar Road. The same route will be attacked by elite international riders in Stage 3 of the 2016 Amgen Tour of California on May 17. “We’re going to see some amazing fireworks up Gibraltar,” said the 51-year-old Zimmerman, who said of his amateur success Sunday, “I shot a free throw. It’s not the same as playing a game against Michael Jordan.”
S.B. ATHLETIC ROUND TABLE ATHLETES OF THE WEEK
Erica Schroeder, San Marcos track
Running in winds that raked the Santa Barbara County Championships, the junior set new meet records in the girls’ 1600 (4:57.19) and 800 meters (2:16.25).
Dustin Demeter, Dos Pueblos baseball
The Hawai‘i-bound senior had three home runs and seven RBIs in a 13-5 victory over Buena, as the Chargers took over first place in the Channel League.