UCSD Hoping To Shed Underdog Tag
Division II Tritons will begin to offer scholarships next season
March 29, 2007
By Ray Dise
Special to CSTV.com from CVU.com
Ray owns and operates CVU.com and regularly contributes volleyball content to CSTV.com. E-mail here!
The definition for underdog is not very flattering.
One of the more charitable dictionaries defines underdog as "One that is expected to lose a contest or struggle, as in sports or politics. One that is at a disadvantage."
In the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, no one school has worn the underdog label more than UC San Diego. The Tritons, who enter their matches against Hawai'i on March 29 and 30 with an overall record of 5-17 and 2-14 in MPSF play, are a NCAA Division II team in the midst of 11 NCAA Division I teams.
But that - being a non-scholarship Division II school competing against the "big boys" - is not an excuse that second-year head coach Kevin Ring is willing to make.
"The biggest thing for us," he said, "and what we are trying to change, the attitude we are trying to change, is that we are in this league and we can compete with these teams. Yes, we need to play at a very high level or play a very good match to beat any of the teams in the conference, but so does everyone else.
"What we are trying to change, is that when we lose a match, it is not because we are Division II and they are Division I. If we lose a match, it is because they beat us. They served better or passed better. And if we are beating other teams, it is not because it is a fluke. It is because we played better. So we are trying to remind our guys that it is our performance and taking care of the ball and its serving and passing and we need to block some balls and play defense and take care of swings in transition."
UC San Diego, which will begin offering some volleyball scholarships next season, has been successful in at each of the levels at which it used to compete. The Tritons won the NAIA National Title in 1970 and won the Molten Men's Division III Invitational Championship in 2000, which is the de facto, but not the official NCAA Division III Championship.
This year marks only the second time since 1997 that UCSD has won two or more conference matches. 2004, when the Tritons won four conference matches, still stands as the high-water mark for MPSF victories. UC San Diego has won at least one conference match for six consecutive seasons.
"We just keep chipping away a little bit each year," Ring said. "I think we had a great recruiting class. This year there have been times when I was starting four freshmen. That bodes well for our future. We are just building on what we do from the year before and heading into the next. I think we have definitely garnered more respect, over the years, from the other coaches in the MPSF. They realize that they have to come in here and play a good match."
Even with the ability to offer scholarships next season, Ring is firm in his position that UCSD stands on similar footing with the other MPSF schools.
"The scholarship is a financial transaction," he said. "It is money that gets some guys into school. Once my guys come into the gym, we are no different than anybody else out there. We train our 20 hours a week. We're lifting and conditioning and practicing and doing video meetings. We do all the same things that other teams do. So my guys have every right to compete hard and win matches. What the scholarships will allow us to do is that there will be a little more interest among high school seniors looking at UCSD and I think that will help us in the future with recruiting for our program."
And in the future, the goal is not just to do better at recruiting.
"What we are looking to be the next big step for us is to be in the playoff picture and make the playoffs," said Ring. "There are 12 quality teams in our conference so that is no easy task for a lot of teams...I think that happens in the very near future. That is our goal and our approach right now."
The Tritons are looking forward to the day when the underdog label hangs around some other team's neck.