Top ranked teams are always tough to compete with, and the UCSB women’s volleyball team is lucky to have one right in its conference in No. 3 Hawaii.
On the road this weekend, the Gauchos (7-8, 2-1) will try to hand the Rainbow Wahine (15-1, 4-0) their first conference loss of the year.
“I’m very excited as I think the rest of the team is,” senior outside hitter Leah Sully said. “It’s a hard gym to play in, but we’re very good against good teams, so I think we’re ready for a challenge.”
Hawaii’s only loss this year came against No. 8 San Diego, but the Rainbow Wahine have since gone on a 13-game winning streak.
One of the reasons they have been able to dominate is because there isn’t anything they’re not good at. Hawaii owns the Big West’s leaders in kills, digs and assists per set. Although the Gauchos don’t boast the record or statistics that a team like Hawaii does, they are confident in their ability to compete this weekend.
“We’re really going to have to stay focused and disciplined to beat Hawaii,” senior outside hitter Katey Thompson said. “We really want to and that’s a huge part of it. If we play our best volleyball then I really believe we can come away with a win.”
If they’re going to be able to get the win, the Gauchos will have to try and find an answer for senior outside hitter Emily Hartong; something no team has done yet this season. Hartong leads the way with 259 kills and a .308 kill percentage. Setting her up is senior setter Mita Uiato, who leads the conference with 10.91 assists per set.
If Hawaii’s offense wasn’t already enough to deal with, its defense is tops in the Big West as well. Senior libero Ali Longo leads the conference with 230 digs and junior middle hitter Kalei Adolpho adds another dimension with her ability to contribute both offensively and defensively. Adolpho’s .423 hitting percentage and 1.09 blocks per set put her at second and fifth in the Big West, respectively.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work,” sophomore setter Hanna Nielson said. “We’ve been practicing really hard so we just need to figure out our passing and continue to be aggressive on defense. If we put everything together we’ll be fine.”
For the Gauchos, they will need to continue relying on Thompson, whose 3.51 kills per set are good for second in the conference. Freshman outside hitter Ali Spindt has been playing excellently as well, and is second on the team in kills with 145.
“We’re going to have to play extremely well, but I know one thing about this team is they rise to every challenge,” Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. “There’s not one team in the country that we can’t play with, so we’re looking forward to it.”
UCSB has won two straight conference games thanks to solid team play and contributions from every player on the court. Perhaps the most important contribution though has come from Sully, who recently made the switch from outside hitter to libero.
Despite only starting the last three matches at libero, she is fifth in the conference in digs with 188 and third on the team in kills with 136.
“Last year we didn’t have a great match there so a lot of people are ready to come out and get some revenge on them,” Sully said.
The match starts Saturday at 7:00 p.m. in the Stan Sheriff Center.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of October 10th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Magali Gauthier of the Daily Nexus.