Preston, Menzel-Downing to lead Royal spikers

The names “Preston” and “Menzel” go a long way in local volleyball circles, and they’re now combining forces to try and get the San Marcos girls program back on top.

Courtney Preston and Erica Menzel-Downing have been named co-head coaches for the Royals after Roger Kuntz stepped down last month to focus on leading the boys team. They will be the only female head coaches in the Channel League.

Preston graduated San Marcos in 1999 and Menzel-Downing in 2000, and both have been coaching with the Santa Barbara Volleyball Club for six years. Menzel-Downing spent four seasons as Jason Donnelly’s assistant at Laguna Blanca before moving on to assist Kuntz at San Marcos the past two seasons. Preston assisted first-year head coach Jim Alzina at Laguna Blanca this past season, and Donnelly the year before that.

“I’m excited because the Thunderhut is the gym we grew up in, and it’s the gym Erica and I bonded as teammates in,” said Preston.

After San Marcos, Menzel-Downing went on to have a stellar playing career under coach Kathy Gregory at UCSB, finishing sixth all-time in kills, seventh in digs and eighth in kill average for the Gauchos. She was a two-time all-Big West first team selection.

Preston is the daughter of legendary Gaucho men’s coach Ken Preston, who stepped down last season after 30 years at the helm.

Menzel-Downing was at Rob Gym Saturday to watch her little brother, Jeff, pound a match-high 18 kills in UCSB’s win over fourth-ranked Long Beach State.

The two have their work cut out for them, as San Marcos’ program has struggled recently, at least in comparison to what it was during their playing days. The Royals have made the playoffs every year, but have taken a back-seat to powerhouse programs at Santa Barbara and Dos Pueblos. The Dons and Chargers went all the way to the CIF title match this year, with the Dons prevailing in three games.

Next year’s Royal roster will include few returners, but a clean slate might be a good fit for the new coaches.

“I think it’ll take a couple of years, but we have some good kids in there right now,” said Menzel-Downing. “Maybe not the biggest talent you’ve ever seen but girls that are going to work really hard for us and have energy and want to be there. That’s the hardest thing to find.”

Preston hopes that the pre-existing relationships she and her co-head coach have in the local volleyball scene will help in rebuilding the program.

“It starts with the relationships you create with the girls, and I think that feeds back into the community,” she said. “I hope this at least sparks another idea next year for incoming freshmen.”

As for coaching styles, it gets a little confusing.

“I’m more of the bad cop and Courtney’s the good cop, but its good because she can also be a good bad cop,” said Menzel-Downing.

Good cop, bad cop, whatever.

If keeping it in the family counts for anything, San Marcos seems to have made a good choice.