Last Saturday, the UCSB women’s volleyball team played what was then its biggest match of the season against No. 12 Hawaii, coming up just short in a 3-2 loss. Exactly seven days later, the Gauchos took on first-place Cal State Northridge in a match with even bigger implications in deciding the Big West championship race. UCSB did something that it couldn’t do against Hawaii, prevailing with a thrilling 3-2 win and putting itself in the best position of any team to win the conference.
The latest win gives UCSB a record of 15-9 overall and 10-2 in the Big West while dropping Northridge to 22-5 and 12-2. After completing the season sweep over the Matadors, the Gauchos earned the all important tie-breaker, which will give them first place if the two teams end the year with the same record. On Thursday, a 3-0 UCSB victory over UC Davis dropped the Aggies to 14-12 overall and 6-7 in conference.
“It felt awesome. Winning any five-set game is really a great feeling,” freshman outside hitter Ali Spindt said. “We were just hungry to win and we knew we had to pull it out. We want to win the Big West so bad.”
Having already defeated Northridge 3-0 at home last month, the Gauchos came into their road match on Saturday a confident team, and they showed it by dominating the first set. UCSB pulled away with five straight points, taking a 20-13 lead thanks to the serving of senior opposite Katey Thompson.
“We had confidence knowing we could beat them because we’ve been there before,” Spindt said. “We never underestimate any team so we just came out how we did the first time we played them.”
The Gauchos went on to win the set 25-18, but the Matadors responded well in the second, winning it 29-27.
After splitting the next two sets, with UCSB winning the third 25-20 and Northridge taking the fourth 25-21, the fifth set began promisingly for the Gauchos. With the score at 14-12, the final point provided a fitting end to the match as Thompson took a pass from senior libero Leah Sully and finished it off for her 15th kill of the night.
“We stayed mentally tough and we had a lot of energy and fight,” Spindt said. “We grinded it out for every single point and we knew it was going to be a battle. We just kept pushing.”
Spindt led UCSB adding 18 kills and 10 digs, while freshman middle blocker Phoebe Grunt added six block assists.
UC Davis came into Thursday’s match wanting revenge after they relinquished a 2-1 lead in a loss to the Gauchos last month. However, UCSB made quick work of the Aggies this time around, following Spindt’s 14 kills and 17 digs to an easy 3-0 victory.
Grunt was again a big factor, picking up eight kills on a .467 hitting percentage, while Sully led the defense with 22 digs.
“We really focused on our serving in practice which helped us a lot in both our games this weekend,” Spindt said. “We were just really focused and we knew these two games were really important.”
The Gauchos face Fullerton Friday at 7 p.m. in the Thunderdome.
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of November 18, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Eric Swenson of The Daily Nexus.