The #14 Santa Barbara women’s volleyball team will host the largest sporting event of UCSB’s athletic season tonight, while squaring off with an unranked but dangerous Texas-San Antonio squad in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Tournament play kicks off in the Thunderdome at 5:30 p.m. when #18 Stanford University battles #22 Loyola Marymount in its first-round matchup. Directly following the conclusion of that match, Santa Barbara and San Antonio will battle to determine who will advance to the second round, at approximately 7:30.
“We’ve got the toughest draw in the country,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said in an interview Monday. “We are going to approach this one game at a time. We are not going to overlook anyone.”
If there was any match the Gauchos could possibly overlook, it would be tonight’s David vs. Goliath-like matchup against the Roadrunners.
Despite the fact that San Antonio enters the contest riding a 15-match winning streak, the Roadrunners did not compete against many quality opponents in the Southland Conference. The only common opponent the two teams have shared all season, Big West bottom dweller UC Irvine, beat San Antonio in four games back in September. UCSB swept the Anteaters both times they played this season.
Coaching is in the Gauchos’ favor. Gregory has amassed an impressive 651-276 record in her 25 years at Santa Barbara’s helm. Gregory, the only volleyball coach UCSB has ever had, was also named National Coach of the Year in 1993 and is a member of the Volleyball Hall of Fame. Texas-San Antonio’s Head Coach Katrinka Jo Crawford has a career record of 401-349-2.
Experience and homecourt advantage are also on Santa Barbara’s side. The Gauchos are one of only four teams to qualify for all 20 NCAA Tournaments. This is the Roadrunner’s first appearance in the tournament. UCSB is 11-2 all-time in NCAA Tournament play in the Thunderdome. The Gauchos are also enjoying an eight-match Tournament winning streak in the ‘Dome, dating back to 1994.
Despite the disparities between the two teams, Santa Barbara is expecting to have its hands full.
“This is the toughest draw that we’ve ever had here at UCSB,” Gregory said. “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.’ “