Matt Jones
New UCSB women's volleyball coach Matt Jones has been in the program for the last six years as an assistant and associate head coach. (Jeff Liang / UCSB Athletics photo)

The year has brought some huge changes in the life of 33-year-old Matt Jones.

In March, he was named the head coach of the UC Santa Barbara women’s volleyball team and just last month he became a father. His wife Alyssa gave birth to a daughter, Devyn Ryann Jones, on July 5.

Alyssa, Devyn and the community can see Matt make his Division 1 coaching debut on Friday, Aug. 25, as his Gauchos play host to New Mexico State in the opener of the three-day Thunderdome Classic. They’ll also play Denver and North Florida.

Jones becomes only the third coach — and the first male coach — of the UCSB women’s volleyball program. He follows Nicole Lantagne Welch who retired after 10 years, and volleyball Hall of Famer Kathy Gregory, who built the program and coached the Gauchos for 38 seasons.

Jones assisted Welch for the past six years and served as an associate head coach for the last three. She recommended him for the job.

“It’s pretty surreal. I feel like I’m definitely fortunate to be a head coach at only 33 at a Division 1 program with so much history,” he said. “Even in the modern permutation of volleyball, it’s still a top third program right now, at worst. In the good years, we’ve been a top-40 team. Obviously, the goal is to get back amongst the elite and to be consistently a top 25-type team. 

“We’ll see how things play out. We’ll take it one year at a time. If we can have success and really build something special here for the community, the goal I’ve set — if I’m going to be here for several decades — is to win the first national title for women’s sports at UCSB. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Coach Matt Jones talks to setter Michelle Zhao during a recent practice. Zhao is a transfer from Washington State. (UCSB photo)

The first team in the Jones era includes the core group of a 2022 squad that went 20-10 — the Gauchos’ third-straight 20-win season — and finished second in the Big West with a 16-4 record.

“Our entire passing unit comes back, both of our six-rotation outsides come back and our all-conference right sides return,” he said. “Of course, like every year, you’re going to have some rebuilding to do, but this year it’s really about plugging holes, it’s not a massive rebuild. We have a ton of experience, it’s just a matter of being a little more consistent, and there’s some things we can do strategically and tactically to play at a higher level than we did last year.

“If we can do that and do it more consistently, yes I think we have the talent right now to already be a top 25-team.”

Senior Macall Peed, the Big West Libero of the Year and an all-region honoree last season, leads the back row. Senior opposite hitter Tasia Farmer and senior outsides Brianna McKnight and Michelle Ohwobete bring experience, speed and energy to the front line. Ohwobete is a two-time All-Big West first-team selection, while Farmer was an honorable mention pick last year.

“Those are the key components,” said Jones.

At setter, returning junior Grace McIntosh and newcomers Michelle Zhao, a junior transfer from Washington State, and freshman Milan Rex, of Alexandria City, Virginia, will see action in the Gauchos’ 6-2 offense.

“We have the pieces in place that fit the system we run,” said Jones.

Ohwobete appreciates the passion and perspective Jones brings to the game.

“Matt is very passionate about volleyball and that’s something I really understand,” she said. “He sees the game differently than a lot of other people. Sometimes when I hear the way he talks about it, it’s like art, it’s like putting pieces together. It’s very fun and developmental for a player like me and I’m sure for the freshman around us to hear the language Matt uses in putting the pieces together the way that he sees it.

“I’m excited to see his take on the program and on what UCSB volleyball looks like and is going to look like.”

Jones said his coaching style is about an enthusiasm to learn new things and change, and connect with people.

“And that’s not just in my job, that’s in life. I don’t want to be stagnant, it sounds terrifying and boring to me. (Learning) is so vital to who I am. I definitely don’t coach the same like I did when I was 23 (in my first head coaching job) at City College. I think I have adapted and I’ve grown, and I’ve learned from all the coaches I’ve been around or from coaches from afar.

“I’m never afraid to say we’re gonna do this because so and so does it and I like it. I don’t need to reinvent volleyball or come up with all these innovative ideas. I rarely come up with an innovative idea, but I can constantly be listening and learning and staying connected with people who see the game at a high level and just soak up as much as I can.”

Jones watches a drill with setter Grace McIntosh (center) and defensive specialist Cortni Youngblood. (UCSB photo)

He added that a big part of the job is managing and connecting with people and getting them all to work toward one goal. That includes players, alumni, donors and staff.

Jones’ staff will include coaching colleague Chad Gatzlaf. They worked together on Lantagne Welch’s staff three seasons ago and were part of that 23-6 team that won a NCAA Tournament first-round match and nearly upset of No.2 seed Texas in Austin.

Jones brought in Hannah McGlockton, who was an assistant at Colby College, a Division III school in Maine. She played at Division 1 Georgia Southern University.

Jones has been a man on the move since graduating from La Jolla High where he was standout student-athlete; he played basketball and volleyball and was a member of the Cum Laude Society.

He was accepted into Harvard and played on the men’s volleyball team for four years and was team captain in his junior and senior years. He left as the program’s career leader in kills, and service aces. He was named an All-Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association first-team selection as a senior and earned EIVA Academic honors

Jones graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics.

With an Ivy League degree in hand, he had plenty of career options in front of him.

He chose to pursue a career as a college volleyball coach.

After playing a year of professional volleyball in Luxembourg, he looked into graduate assistant positions at colleges.

“I just wasn’t ready to be done with sports,” he admitted. “I was thinking I’ll buy some more time to get a master’s degree and coach and then see what I want.”

He saw that Santa Barbara City College was looking for men’s volleyball head coach and landed the job in 2013. He coached there for three years and also coached with the Santa Barbara Volleyball Club.

“Those years at City College is when I became fully affirmed that I wanted to do this as a career,” he said.

In addition to his introduction to coaching in Santa Barbara, Jones learned about the community’s rich and colorful volleyball culture while playing high-level beach volleyball at East Beach.

Jones joins a handful of people with Santa Barbara ties who are head coaches at high-level women’s volleyball programs. At the top of the list is the legendary Karch Kiraly, who is the coach of the Tokyo Olympics gold medal-winning U.S. Women’s National Team.

At the collegiate level, there’s Chris Tamas (Laguna Blanca) at the University of Illinois; Dan Fisher (Dos Pueblos) at Pittsburgh; Heather Olmstead (Carpinteria) at BYU; Todd Rogers (San Marcos) at Cal Poly beach volleyball; and Greg Gibbons (former UCSB assistant) at Pacific indoor and beach.

Jones is one of five men coaching women’s indoor teams in the Big West, joining John Price at Cal State Northridge, Ricci Luyties at UC San Diego, Tyler Hildebrand at Long Beach State and Dan Conners at UC Davis.

After his stint at SBCC, Jones returned to Harvard in 2016 to assist with the women’s and men’s teams and soak in more insight on coaching.

Lantagne Welch hired him as an assistant at UCSB in 2017. He’s been part of three straight 20-win seasons, an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2019 and the program’s first tournament victory in 15 years.

Welch recommended him for the head coaching job.

“She said when she retired I’d be right person for the job,” Jones recalled of the conversation. “She ended up retiring earlier than any of us would have expected, so I was fortunate that it happened.”

Jones has a sit-down discussion with his players after a practice. Jones makes his UCSB coaching debut on Aug. 25 at the Thunderdome against New Mexico State. (UCSB photo)

It was a great situation for his young family, who own a condo in Santa Barbara.

“I was super fired up,” he said of his reaction to being named head coach. “Being a Division 1 coach was definitely a goal of mine. Santa Barbara kind of checked every other box for us. My wife has family connections to this area and I’m from Southern California, so the only box that wasn’t being checked by staying here was how fast can I eventually achieve my dream of coaching at place where we can compete.”

After accepting the position, Jones reached out to Gregory, the woman who put Gaucho women’s volleyball on the map.

“One thing that’s crucially important for my vision for the program is having really one united program, from the alumni through the current players, through committed recruits, parents and players,” Jones said.

“I’d say we’re a pretty open coaching staff when it comes to building relationship. We think that’s vital to building something special here. I don’t think we’re going to win a national title just by being perfectly technical in the gym. I just don’t think that’s realistic.

“I hope to continue to have Nicole and Kathy’s support. What they built here is awesome, I’m just trying to hopefully build on it.

“Obviously, I have my own way of doing things and my own spin, but by no means do I take it for granted what they accomplished here.”

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.