The UCSB women’s volleyball team has now won its last six matches after defeating Cal State Northridge 3-2 on Friday and UC Riverside 3-0 on Saturday. The Gauchos (18-11 overall) were 5-5 in Big West play on Oct. 28, but finish at 11-5 in second place, increasing their chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
“Our team chemistry is the best it has been since the beginning of the season,” senior right side Stacey Schmidt said. “As the season is coming to a close, we’re playing less timid.”
Santa Barbara jumped ahead to an 8-3 lead in the first set at Riverside and didn’t allow the Highlanders to get closer than within two points on its way to a 25-18 win. In the second set, the score was tied at 14 before Schmidt’s kill started an 11-4 run for another UCSB win.
“We were not going to be denied,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “There was too much pride at stake. … At times it was close, but we definitely outplayed them. The reason we were successful was our serving; we had 10 service aces [to their four].”
Determined to earn their fourth sweep in the past five matches, the Gauchos kept the pressure on in the third set, leading the entire way and winning 25-19. Senior libero Chelsey Lowe finished with 38 digs over the weekend, improving her total to 624 this season, which ranks second all-time in single-season UCSB history. Lowe needs 27 digs to move into first place ahead of Leigh Stephenson, who had 650 in 2007.
“We knew we wanted to win in three,” Lowe said. “We wanted revenge from last time.”
At Northridge, the Gauchos fell behind 11-4 in the first set before rallying for a 19-18 lead and eventual 25-21 win. In the next set, they got out to an 8-3 lead and remained ahead the whole way en route to a 25-16 victory.
The Matadors scored the first five points of the third set and held on to the lead throughout, earning a 25-17 win. The fourth set was more evenly matched at first, with the score tied at 11. Then Northridge went on a 14-5 run to close out the set at 25-16 and tie the match 2-2.
“The momentum had shifted, but we knew we had to focus on our side at that point,” Lowe said.
In the decisive fifth set, after being tied 9-9, the Matadors scored the next three points, forcing UCSB to call a timeout. Two ensuing errors by Northridge and a kill by Schmidt tied it again at 12. After trading points, Santa Barbara took the lead thanks to another attack error, and sophomore outside hitter Leah Sully had one of her 15 kills to give the Gauchos the win. The victory provides UCSB with its third straight season with double-digit conference wins.
“I said [during the timeout], we have to make a stop,” Gregory said. “We have to make something happen and go for the aggressive serve. Fortunately, we got a couple of unforced errors [and] made two really good kills … sometimes when you think you’re going to lose, you win.”
With the Big West season complete, UCSB will finish the regular season at the Aztec Turkey Time Tournament in San Diego next weekend with matches against San Diego State and Texas Christian University.