They came from the UCSB campus. They came from the beach. They came from the local high schools. They came from Westmont College. They came from far away. They came from home. They came from Gaucho volleyball teams of the past.
All these people came to the Thunderdome on Friday to see retired UCSB men’s volleyball coach Ken Preston honored as a Legend of the Dome.
It was a heart-warming event for the man they affectionately call “KP.”
“It was pretty cool,” said Preston, who amassed more than 500 wins in his 30-year career at UCSB. He joins Kathy Gregory (women’s volleyball), Mark French (women’s basketball) and Jerry Pimm (men’s basketball) as Legend of the Dome coaches. He’ll be inducted into the UCSB Athletic Hall of Fame next year.
Preston was honored between the second and third sets of UCSB’s regular-season finale against No. 3-ranked BYU. The Cougars won in three sets.
Preston’s family, friends, former UCSB coaching colleagues and several of his former players were on hand to see his banner unfurled. On it is a photo of him on the sideline during a match and the words “Family, Steady and Class.”
Preston has always been a good family man. He was always steady in his handling of players and he coached and competed with class.
“He worked hard, he recruited hard and gave the program everything that he had,” said Marc “Cubby” Jacobs, Gaucho volleyball’s long-time PA announcer who was calling his final match. “All of his players graduated, and you can see by the players that showed up here they came to show respect for Kenny. He made you want to be a better player and a better person. He’s one of my first friends at UCSB and we’re still close friends.”
Jacobs said he and Preston played one season together on the men’s volleyball team in 1969-70. Jacobs started doing the public address announcing for volleyball in 1980.
“Rudy Suwara said, ‘You have the biggest mouth, you do the announcing.’ And that’s how I got started,” said Jacobs, who also did men’s basketball, soccer and baseball PA at UCSB as well as many of the crosstown high school volleyball matches.
“It’s been a great run,” he said.
David Rottman, who led the Gauchos to the 1988 NCAA Final and is the one of the program’s all-time kill and blocking leaders, called “Cubby and KP the quintessential UCSB volleyball family members.”
He said of Preston: “He means so much to everyone of these guys here and all the guys who couldn’t make it tonight. He’s like the father of Gaucho volleyball. We look up to him as a coach and he was a damn good coach, and an even a better person.”
On Cubby, Rottman said: “What can you say, he echoes in your mind every time you come to one of these matches. You think about your old matches, even at Pauley Pavilion. It’s Cubby, it’s part of the landscape.
“This is great night for Gaucho volleyball.”
Former player Cullen Irons, who is now an assistant for current coach Rick McLaughlin, said honoring Preston “is well deserved a long overdue. I owe my entire career to Kenny Preston. He took a big chance on me in high school. I was fresh off my second shoulder surgery and he gave me a spot on the team. I’m very thankful for that.”
Rick Wilson, Preston’s brother-in-law and a former president of the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table, was moved by the ceremony. “He worked real hard when he was a coach,” Wilson said. “He has a great quote. Somebody asked him how his team was going to do that year and he said, ‘I don’t know but ask me in 20 years when they’re fathers and husbands and business people. Ask me then.’”
BYU coach Shawn Olmstead was excited to be at the Thunderdome the night UCSB honored Preston. The son of longtime volleyball official Rick Olmstead grew up in Carpinteria and has known Preston since he was a kid.
“I’ve been coming to this place ever since I was walking,” he said. “To honor such a wonderful person like Kenny, I was like, ‘Wow.’ It was just perfect. The program for Kenny, his family, I was able to be a small part of it. I think the world of him, the program he’s built here. Look at all these people who came to honor him. The proof is right there, all these people who love and care about him. I have very fond memories of surfing with him, competing against his teams, all those things.”