There are always two halves to every match: the match itself, and then the last play. The funny thing is that while the match is longer, the only thing that anyone ever remembers is the last play.
That was the case Friday night in the Thunderdome as the #14 UCSB women’s volleyball team defeated #18 Stanford, 9-15, 16-14, 15-8, 14-16, 16-14, in one of the greatest matches in Gaucho history. The match ended on the easiest serve of the night, a high floater from freshman middle blocker Simone Kuhn that landed between two Stanford passers, including Logan Tom, the starting outside hitter for the U.S. Olympic Team in Sydney. After the noise died down and the dust settled, Santa Barbara (24-7 overall) finds itself heading to Hawai’i with a third-round matchup against Minnesota.
“In 26 years, I’ve never been involved in a match that was this exciting, tension-filled and close,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said after the win. “This is a young team, and to be playing against the best player in the country [Tom] … I am so proud of these girls and what they did [Friday].”
Stanford (19-11) opened the first game like the perennial national championship contenders that they are. Even a run by the Gauchos at the end of the game could not narrow the gap enough, and game one went to the Cardinal 15-9.
Games two and three were completely different stories, as Santa Barbara began to serve tougher and finally found its side-out rhythm. With all cylinders pumping, the Gauchos squeaked by a 16-14 win with a late comeback in game two, and then trounced Stanford 15-8 in the third game.
Game four was filled with enough tension for an entire match. After leading the entire game, and having multiple swings for the match, Santa Barbara let Tom take over. Tom served an ace and had two kills to erase a 13-14 deficit and give Stanford new life. The result was a complete shift of momentum, and a rally scoring game five.
“After we pulled out that fourth game, I just told our team to play like Stanford,” Cardinal Interim Head Coach Denise Corlett said.
But even with Stanford playing like Stanford, Santa Barbara proved to be too tough. After blowing an unthinkable 8-4 lead with poor hitting and defense, the Gauchos found themselves on the ropes and trailing 14-13 with Tom serving. Brieanna Lampe delivered with one of her team-high 25 kills to keep that match alive, and then UCSB combined to stuff Tom on a back-row attack to put Santa Barbara up, 15-14. That was when Kuhn dropped the most improbable of all aces between Tom and middle blocker Tara Conrad to end the match.
“Who says we are too small?” Gregory asked. “Does that say what heart and soul this team has? … This is what it is all about.”