How does the UCSB women’s volleyball team follow up a gigantic home victory over Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament? Travel to Hawai’i, upset Minnesota and advance to the Elite Eight.
That is just what the Gauchos did in December during their improbable run in the tournament. After a shocking and heart-stopping five-game victory over the heavily favored #19 Cardinals, the Gauchos buried the #9 Golden Gophers in four games and earned the right to battle host team Hawai’i for a chance to gain the school’s first-ever berth in the NCAA Final Four. But it was not to be, as the Rainbow Warriors overpowered UCSB and advanced on in the tournament.
On Dec. 7, Santa Barbara found itself in a dogfight with a team that severely outsized them for the second match in a row. However, the Gauchos were able to control the tempo and pace of the game against the Gophers by extending rallies with superior ball control and team defense. The result was a 15-12, 7-15, 15-7, 15-10 four-game upset.
"I said it from the beginning that we had the hardest draw in the country," UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said upon returning from the island. "But I didn’t say that it couldn’t be done. We played well and we beat a very good team."
The same stabilizing offensive forces that drove them all year led the Gauchos to victory. The one-two-three punch of sophomore outside hitter Courtney Guerra, freshman middle blocker Simone Kuhn, and sophomore middle blocker Danielle Bauer combined for 53 kills against Minnesota, accounting for more than 70 percent of the total Santa Barbara team offense. Bauer led the team with 19 kills and a career-high 23 digs, and Kuhn and Guerra each chipped in 17 kills.
Two nights later against the University of Hawai’i, the story would unfold quite differently. The Gauchos again claimed game one, but the Rainbow Warriors would not roll over and play dead as the Gophers had. Instead, Hawai’i elevated the level of their game and went on to punish Santa Barbara 15-1, 15-10, 15-2 over the next three games en route to a four-set victory.
Guerra, Kuhn, and Bauer again led the offense, this time each with 14, 13, and 12 kills respectively. Junior All-American setter Brooke Rundle paced UCSB in the match with 44 assists.
Even though the season ended for the Gauchos in the Elite Eight as it had last year, there was a different feeling among the players at the end of this season about what they had accomplished.
"Last year everyone expected us to get to [the Elite Eight]," said Rundle. "This year no one expected us to be here except ourselves, and that made getting to the point so much sweeter."