The UCSB women’s volleyball team split its pair of games at the Comcast Lobo Challenge on Friday before ousting the University of New Mexico — the tournament’s host — on Saturday in five sets to finish the tournament 2-1.
“Overall it was a pretty good weekend,” senior setter Dana Vargas said. “Our attack was balanced and we really started to come together as a team.”
UCSB’s defense set the tone for the Gauchos over the weekend. In its first match against Southern Methodist University, the team tallied 76 total digs. Freshman libero Kelly Heenan lead the Gauchos with 20, followed by outside hitter Kara Sherrard with 17.
However, the Gauchos’ offense struggled against SMU, hitting at just a .148 clip and allowing the Mustangs to take the match 3-1 behind 15 team blocks.
“We came out a little tentative and didn’t control the tempo of the match as we would have liked,” Vargas said.
By Friday’s second match against Sacramento State, the Gaucho offense was ready to keep up with its defense. UCSB flipped the script against the Hornets, taking the match 3-1 behind senior middle blocker Kasey Kipp, who set a career-high 15 kills while hitting at an extraordinary .609 clip.
The defense posted 88 total digs while holding Sacramento State to a meager .097 hitting percentage. The Gauchos boasted five different players with double digit kills and added 11.5 blocks.
“Our defense has improved a lot. Everyone can dig and we are getting more touches on balls, which give us a great advantage and an easier time offensively,” senior outside hitter Charlene DeHoog said.
Heading into Saturday, the Gauchos were determined to put it all together against the hosting New Mexico squad.
“Especially on their home court, we were really looking to come out strong against New Mexico, and I think we surprised them with our intensity,” DeHoog said.
With the score tied at 19-19 in the third set, Santa Barbara rallied — collecting six straight points — to effectively end the game, 25-19.
The Lobos would take the fourth set, 25-18, tying the match at 2-2 heading into the decisive fifth set. In the shortened final set, UCSB persevered with a 15-10 win behind the efforts of DeHoog, who ended the game — and match — with an emphatic kill.
DeHoog, who tallied 51 kills, 40 digs, and three consecutive double-doubles over the weekend, was named to the Comcast Lobo Challenge All-Tournament Team. Stacey Schmidt — who posted 17 kills against the Lobos — was also named to the All-Tournament team, the third straight tournament in which she has received that honor for the Gauchos.
“It was really a team victory,” DeHoog said. “My and Stacey’s success was just a byproduct of our defense and passing.”
UCSB — now 5-4 in the preseason — will not return home until Oct. 1, when it hosts Long Beach State. Until then, the Gauchos will travel to San Diego for the USD Invitational before opening up league play on the road at Cal State Northridge and UC Irvine.
“You look at the preseason as a fortunate opportunity to travel and get used to being on the road,” said Vargas said. “In the coming games, we are looking forward to playing our game and improving.”