Most final season matches are meaningless. You’re either in or out of the playoffs.
The #15 Santa Barbara women’s volleyball team found themselves in that position Friday night in the Thunderdome against #14 BYU. Having already qualified to host the first round of postseason action, the Gauchos approached the game with nonchalance, and then played that way in a 15-5, 15-13, 15-5 losing effort.
Despite getting toppled by the Cougars in the regular season finale, UCSB was chosen Sunday afternoon as one of the 16 host sites for the 2000 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament. Santa Barbara will host Texas-San Antonio on Thursday night and, if they advance, will play the winner of #22 Loyola Marymount University vs. #20 Stanford on Friday.
Friday’s game against BYU was supposed to be a final tune up for the Gauchos while preparing for the postseason. Instead, the match turned ugly fast, and Santa Barbara couldn’t even pull off a victory in one game.
Game one began with a plethora of Cougar points. Before Santa Barbara even had a chance to collect a damage report, it found itself down 13-0. A couple of points made the final score appear acceptable, but the end result was a shocking 15-5 loss that sent UCSB searching for answers.
“I thought that we would take a little different approach to this game and let the girls go home for Thanksgiving to spend some time with their families, but obviously that didn’t work,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “Our focus was not there. BYU came down here on a mission and we were not ready to play in that first game.”
Junior All-American setter Brooke Rundle echoed her coach’s sentiments.
“We came out really tentative,” Rundle said. “It just felt as if we were on the defensive from the beginning. We weren’t aggressive at all.”
Game two was a different story, as Santa Barbara changed its line up to counteract the strong block of the Cougars. Sophomore Brooke Niles, who usually plays outside hitter, stepped in for Rundle and set a good game for the Gauchos. Santa Barbara led 13-10 at one point, but wasn’t able to put the game away and fell 15-13.
The final game was another meltdown for Santa Barbara. UCSB led 5-0, and then surrendered 15 unanswered points to end the match.
“That match was really disappointing,” Niles said, “but we have other things to think about now. The tournament is all that matters.”
The slate is clean during the postseason for the Gauchos, who have qualified for the NCAA Tournament Championships for the 20th straight season. Only three other schools can make such a claim.
Santa Barbara will host the first round of tournament play for the 11th straight year. In the first match, it will face Texas-San Antonio, an average team that won a few critical matches last week in order to qualify for the tournament.
If the Gauchos defeat San Antonio, they will advance to play either #22 LMU or #20 Stanford in the second round. Santa Barbara has swept the Lions the last two times they played: once last year in the second round of the tourney, and earlier this season on Oct. 4. If the Gauchos and the Cardinal should matchup in the second round, it will be a rematch of last season’s Elite Eight game that Stanford won 15-12, 15-6, 15-10.
“This is exactly what I expected,” Rundle said of the Gaucho’s tough draw. “We always have a tough draw, but I am glad the first two games will be at home.”
Gregory, who has seen almost everything in her 25 years as head couch at UCSB, had this to say about her team’s draw in the tournament: “We got the toughest draw in the country. But I never complain about draws, because as soon as you start doing that, you start making excuses and not focusing on winning … We are going to approach this one game at a time. We are not going to overlook anyone … This is the toughest draw that we’ve ever had here at UCSB, but we are going to play them one at a time. That is the mentality you must have this time of year. ‘One game and you’re done.’ “