Members of the UCSB women’s volleyball team are in the midst of their longest road trip of the season, and they have an opportunity to gain some momentum over the weekend after dropping their last two matches. They are coming off a pair of difficult losses against Cal Poly and Hawai’i, who are currently number one and two in the Big West standings. However, this weekend of games provides a great opportunity to jump up in the conference standings against two teams the Gauchos have already bested once before this season.
The first game of the weekend will take place on Friday, Oct. 19, in the Walter Pyramid against the Long Beach State 49ers. The 49ers are in fifth place in Big West play at 3-4, and they will go up against Cal State Fullerton tonight in an attempt to even their record with the 4-4 Gauchos. With only eight matches left for UCSB, this one will have major implications in the conference standings as we approach the home stretch of the season.
The 49ers are headed by junior Hailey Harward, who leads her team with an average of 2.60 kills per set and 2.92 digs per set on the defensive side for this season, and ranks second on the team in that category. UCSB counters the dangerous Harward with the even more dangerous Lindsey Ruddins and her Big West-leading 5.42 kills per set this season to set the tone on the offense for the Gauchos as she makes her case for another All-Big West season.
Another interesting matchup to look out for in this one is between the two talented freshmen setters, Olivia Lovenberg for Santa Barbara and Carly Aigner-Swesey for Long Beach. Lovenberg leads the Big West in assists per set with 11.14, and Aigner-Swesey is not far behind in fifth place, with an average of 7.97 assists per set.
The Gauchos look to sweep the season series against the 49ers after taking their only previous meeting in late September.
The next match will be played in the Matadome on the campus of Cal State Northridge, where the Gauchos will look to defeat the Matadors on their home floor. The last time the two teams faced each other in Santa Barbara, the Gauchos made quick work of CSUN and swept them in three sets.
Northridge is 6-13 overall this season with a 2-5 record against Big West opponents, making it seventh place in the conference. This should be a winnable game for UCSB, as it has proven itself to be the superior team previously.
The Matadors’ offensive attack is led by senior outside hitter Aeryn Owens and her 4.60 kills per set, good enough for fourth in the Big West in that category. Kristey Markle spearheads Northridge on the defensive side of the ball in large part due to her average of 3.81 digs per set this season.
The last time CSUN and UCSB faced off, it was the defensive efforts of Santa Barbara’s senior libero Emilia Petrachi and her 15 digs that made the difference in the win. Petrachi leads the Big West in total digs, and if she finds a way to dominate defensively again, it should result in a Gaucho win. A successful weekend for Coach Lantagne Welch’s squad would be very encouraging and establish some much needed momentum for a stretch run in conference play.
A version of this story appeared on pg. 8 of the Oct. 18 print edition of the Daily Nexus.