Coming off what is undoubtedly its biggest win of the season in Hawaii, the UCSB women’s volleyball team returns home this weekend to host Big West leader Cal State Northridge and UC Davis.
The Gauchos, now at 8-8 overall, 3-1 in the Big West and in sole possession of third place in the conference, will be looking to ride the momentum of an impressive three-match winning streak heading into Friday’s match against Northridge. The Matadors are 15-3 overall and in first place in the Big West with a 5-0 conference record.
On Saturday, UCSB takes on sixth place UC Davis, which stands at 10-8 overall and 2-3 in conference.
For a team that felt they could play with anyone in the country, the Gauchos proved themselves with a historic upset over Hawaii last weekend. The loss dropped the Rainbow Wahine from No. 3 in the nation to No. 10.
“We’re definitely feeling confident,” senior opposite Katey Thompson said. “We feel that since we did take down one of the biggest teams in the nation our abilities are unlimited right now.”
If UCSB is going to be able to take down the conference’s top team for the second weekend in a row, they will likely have to follow the same winning formula that they have found in recent weeks.
The key player in this formula has been Thompson, whose performance in one of the most important games of her senior year against Hawaii could go down as her best ever. The team’s leading scorer all year, Thompson ended the game with a career-high 26 points that included 19 kills and 11 blocks on her way to earning her first-ever Big West Player of the Week award.
“It’s a huge honor, but obviously I didn’t do it all by myself,” Thompson said. “We had a huge team effort in beating Hawaii; they definitely helped me receive the award.”
Senior Leah Sully has also been a huge part in the team’s recent wins, and not in the way she has been in the past. The team has gone 3-1 ever since Sully’s move from outside hitter to libero, and she has compiled 20 digs twice during the stretch.
Northridge boasts the second-most prolific offense in the conference, only behind Hawaii, averaging 13.94 kills per set on a 0.274 kill percentage. However, the Gauchos only need to look to last weekend, when they held Hawaii to a 0.111 kill percentage, to feel good about their chances defensively.
“We’ve been working a lot on our blocking, so hopefully [it] carries over from the Hawaii match,” Thompson said. “If we keep an aggressive mindset we’ll be able to come out on top.”
One of the Matador’s top contributors on the offensive side will be senior setter Sydney Gedryn, who is currently third in the Big West at 10.57 assists per set.
“[Gedryn] is very physical,” Thompson said. “We’re definitely going to have to take care of her and also make sure that we take care of their pin hitters.”
Against UC Davis, the Gauchos will be busy trying to beat a defense led by junior libero Megan Lancaster that leads the conference in digs. Sophomore outside hitter Kaylin Sguyres will also be a player to watch out for as she leads the Aggies with 3.08 kills per set this year.
“[Sguyres] is a strong right side so we definitely need to watch out for her,” Thompson said. “But once again blocking and our defense are the two aspects that we need to focus on [against Davis].”
UCSB hosts Northridge on Friday and UC Davis on Saturday. Both games will be played at 7 p.m. in the Thunderdome.
A version of this article appeared on page 7 of October 17th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Magali Gauthier of the Daily Nexus.