Since NCAA football had its "Rivalry Weekend" this past Saturday, it was only fitting that on Friday night Cal Poly and #14 Santa Barbara did battle in what has become a bitter central coast women’s volleyball rivalry.
UCSB was able to pull out a five-game victory at Cal Poly, but not until the Mustangs took their best shot time and time again at the Gauchos. The result was a 15-9, 6-15, 8-15, 15-5, 15-13 come-from-behind victory that meant just as much to Santa Barbara as any of its wins over Top 25 teams this year.
"It was a big game for them," UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory told The Santa Barbara News-Press. "They honored their two seniors. We didn’t play one of our better matches. We weren’t in sync."
Game one played out to Santa Barbara’s advantage, with the Gauchos taking control with good ball control and tough serving. In game two, the tide turned in the opposite direction, and UCSB’s play went south. Cal Poly senior outside hitter Melanie Hathaway took over the match with her serving and hitting. Hathaway’s play forced Gregory to try and make personnel adjustments, but nothing worked. Game three was the same story, and Santa Barbara quickly found itself in a 2-1 hole, facing elimination in the hostile confines of Mott Gym.
"We had a hard time doing anything in those two games," junior setter Brooke Rundle said. "But we have a great team. We have fun together, and we found a way to pull [a win] out. That is what good teams do."
After a strong game-four showing in which Santa Barbara blew the Mustangs out of the water, UCSB followed its performance up with a gutsy game-five win, 15-13.
The victory not only silenced the rowdy crowd in attendance, but it may have quieted the Cal Poly-Santa Barbara rivalry for awhile as well. With Hathaway[[]] graduating, the Mustangs will lose a large part of their team’s offense and defense. Looking ahead, Cal Poly has no one else to step up and fill in Hathaway’s large shoes, so next year’s run-ins will probably not resemble Friday night’s epic grudge match at all.
With just one regular season contest left, a home match against #13 BYU on Nov. 24, Santa Barbara is looking ahead to its annual date with the NCAA tournament.
"This win was really big because we played bad and still won," Niles said. "I think it will also give us a lot of confidence if we have to play a tough fifth game on the road in the tournament because we have won a few of those this year, and we know that we can win them."