Led by first-year head coach Rick McLaughlin, the UCSB men’s volleyball team has been picked to finish 10th in the 2009 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Preseason Coaches Poll. Perennial powerhouses Pepperdine and UCLA tied for first, while Long Beach State filled the third spot.

McLaughlin takes over a UCSB squad that finished 10-17 overall and placed 10th in the MPSF with a 7-15 mark in 2008 under Ken Preston, who retired after his 30th season as head coach at Santa Barbara.

The 2009 Gauchos are young with just two seniors in outside hitter Mike Runkle and middle blocker Matt Thobe. However, McLaughlin returns five starters and a libero: sophomore setter Vince Devany, sophomore outside hitter Jeff Menzel, junior middle blocker Sam Moisenco, Runkle, and sophomore middle Scott Slaughter. Libero Andy McGuire returns for his sophomore campaign.

Pepperdine won the 2008 MPSF Tournament and garnered the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA Final Four, where the Waves fell to national champion Penn State in the finals. Pepperdine returns two-time first team All-American opposite hitter Paul Carroll.

UCLA, which tied Pepperdine for fourth place in the MPSF standings last year, returns all of its starters including all-conference hitters Garrett Muagututia and Sean O’Malley.

Long Beach State won the 2008 MPSF regular season title with an 18-4 record and earned the at-large bid to the NCAA Final Four.

Following the 49ers in the poll were Cal State Northridge, UC Irvine, USC, Stanford, BYU, Hawai’i, UCSB, UC San Diego and Pacific.

The Gauchos open their 2009 campaign by hosting the 45th annual Elephant Bar Restaurant Collegiate Invitational Jan. 9-10 at Robertson Gymnasium. Joining UCSB in the eight-team tourney will be BYU, Cal State Northridge, Long Beach State, Pacific, Stanford, UC Irvine and UCLA. Santa Barbara takes on Pacific in first round action at 1 p.m. Jan. 9.

The MPSF season opens Jan. 14 as UCSB hosts UC Irvine in a 7 p.m. match.

2009 MPSF Men’s Volleyball Preseason Coaches Poll (first-place votes)

» T-1. Pepperdine, 104 points (4)
» T-1. UCLA, 104 points (2)
» 3. Long Beach State, 87 points (2)
» 4. Cal State Northridge, 84 points (2)
» 5. UC Irvine, 80 points (1)
» 6. USC, 79 points (1)
» 7. Stanford, 76 points
» 8. BYU, 70 points
» 9. Hawai’i, 41 points
» 10. UCSB, 28 points
» 11. UC San Diego, 26 points
» 12. Pacific, 13 points

Scott Flanders is a UCSB associate director of athletics communications.