The UCSB women’s club volleyball team won the NIRSA Division 1 National Championship with a 25-23, 25-21 drubbing of the University of Arizona Saturday night in Kansas City, Missouri. According to sen ior middle blocker and Club Team President Kinsey Johnson, the club has become a star on the national stage in the three short years since she helped found it.
“It feels amazing,” Johnson said. “Everyone has worked so hard to make it come this far. I can’t believe how successful we’ve become after just three years. I mean, other clubs have been around for 20 years or more. Looking back at our first year, we didn’t know what we were doing and were just trying to get things together. I’m so happy to make it to this level.”
The match against the Wildcats was hardly the first meeting between the two squads. Santa Barbara had rumbled with Arizona numerous times prior this season, with UA actually taking the season-long series. Most notably, the Wildcats had stolen first place from the Gauchos in two tournaments in this year’s campaign: in San Diego last November and Las Vegas over Spring Break. Freshman outside hitter Jana Poole said that the previous defeats only motivated Santa Barbara further.
“We were really fired up to beat them because they beat us the last two times we played them in the third game,” Poole said. “We knew what they had and what we needed to do to beat them. I think what it came down to was that we wanted it more and wouldn’t let it get away.”
Johnson concurred, adding that the experience gained from the past meetings worked in the young Gaucho squad’s favor.
“I felt like we knew them,” Johnson said. “Their starting six were all seniors, they were very mature players. We blocked the way we knew how, and they pretty much couldn’t get a kill against us.”
Along with becoming National Champions, UCSB took home their fair share of awards from the tournament. Poole was named MVP of the tournament, while senior libero Michelle Meyer and freshman opposite Michaela Laird were named to the All-Tournament First Team. Poole said that her play in the tournament was the best effort she’s ever put forth.
“It feels amazing,” Poole said. “This is the biggest award I’ve ever gotten. In my whole volleyball career I’m never received anything like it. All around, I was passing, playing defense and hitting. I didn’t make too many mistakes, and I felt that I was very versatile.”
Santa Barbara was also given the Team Sportsmanship Award. While the focus of the team’s weekend was volleyball, the Gauchos took advantage of an offer by the tournament’s hosts to participate in Kansas City’s Operation Breakthrough program for impoverished children. Johnson said that only a pair of teams in the tournament spent time with Kansas City’s kids.
“Out of 300 teams, only two actually went and worked,” Johnson said. “It was fun, we got to play with kids for a few hours. It was good to help out the community in Kansas City because they were so friendly in hosting us.”
For Johnson and the rest of the Gauchos’ seniors, there couldn’t have been a better way to end their Santa Barbara careers.
“I can’t think of a better way to finish playing volleyball,” Johnson said. “I know I could go on and play in some adult league, but that will never be the same as playing for your school with all of your friends.”