The UCSB women’s volleyball team will have an opportunity to move up in the Big West conference with two home league matches against Fullerton tonight and Riverside Saturday. Santa Barbara’s match against Fullerton has many implications in the Big West pecking order, as both are tied for third in the conference.
Fullerton (10-10 overall) enters the game with a 4-3 conference record, locked in a four way tie for third place along with UCSB, Pacific and UC Davis. The Gauchos enter the game with an 11-11 overall record, but will be without junior opposite Katey Thompson and freshman setter Jaylen Villanueva due to injuries.
“In practice [Thursday], on Katey’s first hit she landed on her knee,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “Then Jaylen sprained her ankle on the last play towards the end of practice.”
Returning to her setting duties will be sophomore Ali Santi, who had been the starter most of the season until Villanueva assumed the role last weekend. Thompson’s replacement raises a more difficult question. Villanueva was the other opposite on the team, so with both down, the Gauchos will mix and match, but freshman outside hitter Alex Barbeau should see more playing time this weekend.
The Titans, however, are riding high on a four game winning streak. Fullerton leads the Big West with 116 services aces on the year and 1.49 per set. The Gauchos will have to keep focus on junior outside hitter Bre Moreland, who is No. 1 with 35 aces this year. UCSB will also have to keep an eye on senior outside hitter/middle blocker Kayla Neto, the reigning player of the week in the conference and senior setter Gabrielle Dewberry, who rank No. 5 and No. 9 in the conference in aces, respectively.
“We are a pretty good passing team, so I don’t think that will be an issue for us,” Gregory said. “We don’t give up that many aces … but they are a good serving team though, so we will see.”
On Saturday, UC Riverside will look to turn their season around after an abysmal start to league play. The Highlanders are 5-15 on the season, but are 0-7 in conference play with a seven game losing streak. The streak could come to an end before visiting the Gauchos, however, as Riverside will face Cal Poly on Friday, the only other winless team in conference play.
“We will always remember being ahead of Riverside two games to none last year and then losing in five,” Gregory said. “They do have a fast attack and set the ball exceptionally fast. It’s hard playing a dangerous team that’s suddenly going to play a good game.”
Riverside’s strength lies in its offense. The Highlanders are second only to Fullerton in aces and also have three servers making the top 10. Freshman setter Emily Borges is third in the league serving, and leads the league in assists with an average of 10.61 per set and a total of 743.
The Gauchos are scheduled to begin play on both Friday and Saturday nights at the Thunderdome at 7 p.m.