Attention UCSB media relations: Leave yourselves extra time next year to make the 2003 version of the women’s volleyball media guide because you are going to have to adjust almost all of the records.
Rewriting the record books may not be exactly what the UCSB women’s volleyball squad set out to do this year, but it is just what they have done. The Gauchos have won 24 out of 25 games, marched to a perfect 18-0 record for road matches, had just one home loss to a top-10 team, captured their first ever outright Big West Championship and completed their first ever undefeated Big West season.
“All of these records prove that this year’s team will go down in history as one of the finest Gaucho teams ever,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “These records are going to be hard to break. This year’s team was just able to put together one of those Cinderella seasons.”
Thursday night the Gauchos (28-1 overall, 18-0 in the Big West) faced a difficult test while defeating a much-improved University of the Pacific team 3-0. Saturday night, Santa Barbara survived some poor passing and an off night offensively to wrap up its conference schedule against Cal State Northridge in a 3-1 victory.
“Winning league and going undefeated was huge,” sophomore libero Kristin Nelson said. “But we have some big games ahead of us and we need to stay focused.”
The match against UOP on Thursday night was one that may not have looked all that compelling on paper – UCSB (26-1) vs. UOP (16-11) – but the two teams have a history of bad blood. Add to that mix the three-game drubbing Santa Barbara gave the Tigers in the Thunderdome in September, and it is easy to see why Gregory wanted to have her team playing well in Stockton.
Early on, the Gauchos did not look like the team that has dominated the Big West all season long, trailing in game one 15-10 and 26-21. However, inspired play by senior middle blocker Danielle Bauer and clutch serving by junior outside hitter Erica Menzel helped UCSB steal game one 33-31.
Game two was close until the end, but the Gauchos pulled away to win handily 30-25. In the third game, Pacific’s block started to pick up and it looked as though the Tigers might push the match to four games. Senior outside hitter Courtney Guerra took control late in the third game though and pushed Santa Barbara over the hump for a 32-30 victory.
Bauer had a match-high 22 kills and, with her sterling offensive performance, moved into fourth place on the all-time Gaucho kills list. Menzel had 13 kills and 16 digs for her team-high 20th double-double of the season. Nelson tied her career-high with 21 digs.
Saturday evening, the Gauchos looked sluggish all night but played well enough to win. The final scores were 30-22, 30-26, 35-37 and 30-21. The Gauchos out-hit, out-dug and out-served the Matadors, but still managed to drop just their 10th game of the season.
Santa Barbara is now just the seventh team in history to go undefeated in the Big West Conference. With just one regular season match remaining against #1 USC in the Thunderdome on Tuesday night, the Gauchos will not overlook the Trojans for the playoffs.
“The SC match is going to be great preparation for us for the NCAAs,” junior middle blocker Francina Edmonds said. “This could be a real test for us to see how far we can go. I couldn’t be more excited.”