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UCSB’s Preston Goes Out with a Smile

Gauchos beat UC San Diego, 3-1, to close season, and Preston’s career, on a high note.

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It was a night of very happy endings — for the UCSB’s men’s volleyball team, for coach Ken Preston in the final game of his 30-year career, and for more than 100 of his former players, coaches and supporters.

“It’s always nice to win," the personable Preston said afterward. “But it really didn’t matter if we won. The thrill for me was looking out at the crowd of all those former players and assistant coaches and friends I’d shared the years with, and taking it all in. Even my old Westmont women’s team was there. It was magical.”

So was the Gauchos’ finish in game four against UC San Diego.

After a 33-31 loss in game one, UCSB bounced back 30-17 and 31-29, but lagged behind by as many as seven in game four. Like the rest of the match, it was full of missed serves, crushing spikes, and a few more missed serves.

Down 25-20, it looked like it was going to five games. But the spunky Mike Runkle, big blocking Theo Brunner and the relentless jackhammer, Jeff Menzel had other designs. Menzel, a freshman from San Marcos High, ripped off four of his game-leading 26 kills. Brunner (15 kills) added two more to close the gap, but UCSD was on the verge at 30-29 with Menzel going back to serve.

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"I had missed my serves all night long,” Menzel. “But I drilled them in the clutch.”

Indeed he did. Amazing how much more effective serves are when they’re in the court. For it was Brunner and Runkle who bloked solid, and sent back repeated UCSD spikes to the floor for points, a powerful concluding statement and a 32-30 finish. It was the perfect ending to the playing careers for seniors Brunner, Ben Brockman and former Santa Barbara High star Mike Fisher, and for 30 years of collegiate volleyball combat for Preston.

Preston began his UCSB head coaching career in 1979 and has compiled a 506-364 overall record for a winning percentage of .582. He has guided the program to 21 of its 29 seasons of .500 or better, including 19 winning seasons. His teams have qualified for 19 postseason appearances and in 1988, Preston’s squad advanced to the NCAA Final Four and then the NCAA championship match.

Preston’s daughter, Sarah, is convinced that her dad will now begin his next career at Trader Joe’s, where, “he wants to be one of the happy workers.” Daughter Courtney is looking forward to her dad’s help on the bench as she coaches the Santa Barbara club 16 Elite team at Junior Olympics.

Those who know KP well know that he’ll be surfing, golfing and smiling the smile he was beaming after the game at the reception for him held in the new Intercollegiate Athletics Department building on campus. He thanked his wife, three decades of players and supporters, and concluded, “I’m one of the luckiest people I know.”

Click here for Saturday’s official box score and play-by-play.

Noozhawk sports coordinator Jon Lee was a member of UCSB’s 1969 national championship volleyball team.

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