Zakarian’s first SBCC squad has lots of experience

When asked if the 2011 SBCC men’s volleyball team would be better than last year, returning setter Kaahukane Leite-Ah Yo didn’t hesitate.

“For sure,“ said the 6-3 sophomore from Kamehamea High in Hilo, Hawaii. “Guaranteed.“

Three starters return from last year’s 8-9 edition that went 3-7 and finished fifth out of six teams in the Western State Conference.

“We have guys with more experience,” said Leite-Ah Yo. “And the returners from last year have made great improvements. We have a lot of skill and that makes our practices better.”

The Vaqueros open on Saturday at the 12-team Long Beach Invitational.

The other returning starters are 6-5 Justin Hertlein and 6-7 Cody Zoesch of Dos Pueblos High.

Armen Zakarian is the new head coach and at 26, he’s the youngest coach of SBCC’s 17 intercollegiate teams.

“We’re going to be strong through the middle,” said Zakarian, a former SBCC and UCSB star. “When we can control the ball, we’ll be deadly up the middle.”

Zakarian said the return of Kyle Benskin, a 6-5 sophomore from
Dos Pueblos, will also be a key to success. Benskin played for the Vaqueros a few years ago.

“He’s going to clog the middle and be a big force blocking,” Zakarian noted. “He’ll definitely be one of our captains.”

Bernardino Garcia and Morgan Youngs, a pair of sophomores from Carpinteria High, are also expected to challenge for starting spots along with a trio of 6-3 freshman — Logan Weis, Brock Skriloff and Justin Carroll. Michael Naki also figures to see action at outside hitter.

Jacob Jenkins, a freshman from Kamehameha High, will be the libero. Jenkins’ father was a setter on the U.S. National team and Zakarian played with his brother, Nate Jenkins, at SBCC in 2004-05.

The first home match is Feb. 8 against Orange Coast.

“We need to serve-receive tough,” said Zakarian. “That’s always the way. You can’t run your middle attack if you can’t pass the ball. … We want to control the ball the way we want to and run our offense.”

Zakarian describes his coaching style as “hands on” and says he’s always energetic and extroverted. He was an assistant coach for Kathy Gregory with the UCSB women’s team in 2007.

The new coach realizes the WSC is a tough conference. Long Beach went 10-0 last year, then lost to WSC runner-up Moorpark in the state championship.

“If you set goals too high and don’t reach them, then you’re setting yourself up for failure,” Zakarian noted. “We know what’s realistic and what’s not. I know this league is stacked.

“One of our biggest goals is to see how we can survive and finish in the top three (to make the playoffs). Once you’re in the playoffs, you never know.”