They call it “The Barn.” But for the last few years, Cal Poly’s Mott Gymnasium has been more like the “House of Horrors” for the #6 UCSB women’s volleyball team.
In their last four contests in San Luis Obispo, the Gauchos (24-1 overall, 14-0 Big West) have dropped a match to the Mustangs (11-11, 10-4) on their home turf. Yet Santa Barbara easily disposed of Cal Poly in three games Saturday.
“[Mott] is a difficult gym to play in,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “Their lights are a little different and they have some sort of a weird breeze in their gym. I have seen a lot of teams have trouble in there, but our girls were very focused all night long.”
Saturday night’s match was much more than just another bout with its Central Coast rival; it was also the first opportunity for Santa Barbara to rebound from a loss. UCSB dropped its first match of the season Wednesday evening in a topsy-turvy match in the Thunderdome to #10 Pepperdine.
The Gauchos served notice on Saturday that they are still one of the best teams in the country, effortlessly handling the Mustangs 30-23, 30-24, 30-19 and improving their Big West lead to three matches. Santa Barbara can now claim its first ever league championship at home this week. With a win on Friday against UC Riverside, Santa Barbara is guaranteed at least a share of the championship, and a second win on Saturday night against Cal State Fullerton would claim the championship outright.
“It would mean a lot if we could win league,” senior All-American candidate Brooke Niles said. “It would be special to win the Big West, but more importantly it will show that we are playing well going into playoffs.”
Cal Poly packed Mott Gym for what the school considered its biggest volleyball rivalry. 2,144 spectators turned out to see senior middle blocker Danielle Bauer and the rest of the Gaucho squad play a match that dominated in almost every sense of the word.
Bauer led the way with a season-high 23 kills and a staggering .500 hitting percentage. Junior outside hitter Erica Menzel continued her consistently hot play as she turned in her 18th double-double of the season by pouring in 12 kills and 13 digs. Sophomore libero Kristin Nelson scooped up 19 balls, a season-high. As a team, UCSB tallied an unbelievable 82 digs in just three games.
“It just shows how you can frustrate a team with defense,” senior outside hitter Courtney Guerra said. “We worked a lot on our defense after the Pepperdine match, and it paid off for us.”
The Gauchos will fall in the national polls this week because of their loss to Pepperdine, but they have a great chance of wrapping up their first ever league championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Should Santa Barbara win the conference, that will be just another feather in the already full cap for the Gauchos when the NCAA selection committee sits down in a few weeks to seed the NCAA Tournament.
“Winning league will help us get a better seed,” Guerra said. “We have a tough conference, and they know that. Hopefully, winning league will help give us an easier road to the finals.”