The UCSB women’s volleyball team almost took Hawai‘i the last time they played. It was back on Oct. 5, when the Gauchos pushed the Rainbow Warriors to five sets for the first time since 2014 but dropped that final set and the match.
On Saturday, UCSB will try to improve upon that result and come out with their first win over Hawai‘i since 2013. While that first match was in the Thunderdome, this one will be in Honolulu, as the Gauchos wrap up their four-game road trip.
That loss to the Rainbow Warriors was the first in a three-game losing streak, which UCSB snapped last Saturday at CSUN with a 3-2 win.
Now sitting at 13-9 overall and 5-5 in the Big West, the Gauchos have some work to do to climb the standings and catch up to at least UC Irvine, at 6-2.
UCSB also has an opportunity to play the spoiler for Hawai‘i’s conference title hopes.
A loss to Cal Poly is the Rainbow Warrior’s only conference blemish, at 13-6 and 9-1, and another loss would all but doom Hawai‘i’s chances from achieving at least a share of the Big West title.
The Rainbow Warriors have relied on a balanced attack all season, with five players averaging over two kills per set. That balanced attack burned the Gauchos at the beginning of October, when four different Rainbow Warriors posted double-digit kills in the five-set victory.
Senior outside hitter McKenna Granato is the leading Hawai‘i attacker with 3.29 kills per set, good for sixth in the Big West.
The Gauchos will have to do a better job limiting Granato and the four other attacking Rainbow Warriors – Norene Iosia, Casey Castillo, Natasha Burns and Sarah Liva – in order to return to the mainland victorious.
The UCSB attack isn’t quite as balanced as the system boasted by Hawai‘i, but it is more multipolar than it’s been in past years.
Torre Glasker and Rowan Ennis both have more than two kills per set and come on particularly strong in conference play as able, complementary players to Lindsey Ruddins and her 5.43 kills per set.
Those three hitters will have to be a whole lot more effective this time than they were back on Oct. 5. Ruddins had her worst game of the season, hitting just .043 and committing 13 errors, while Glasker hit -.088.
Even with those struggles, the Gauchos were still able to push the Rainbow Warriors to five sets.
The margin for error will be much lower in Honolulu than it was at home, but it’s unlikely UCSB will hit too far below their average hitting percentage of .235.
It’s unlikely, however, that the Gauchos will get as good of a chance at the Rainbow Warriors as they did last time.
In that first matchup, Hawai‘i had its worst attacking game of the season, hitting just .138 percent with 31 errors.
The Rainbow Warriors seem to have patched things up since that matchup, as their hitting percentage has only increased since then.
They steamrolled Cal State Fullerton in three sets on Saturday night with a hitting percentage of .333 and seem primed to prove that earlier match was an aberration.
The Gauchos, then, will have to do the same on Saturday if they’re to have any hope at pulling off the upset. It’s not all on the attack either; Hawai‘i’s opponents have averaged 2.30 blocks per set, which would be good for second in the Big West, so UCSB will also have to capitalize defensively.
The Oct. 5 loss wasn’t pretty, but it proved that the Gauchos can hang with Hawai‘i. On Saturday, UCSB will have a chance to show that it can do more than just hang.
UCSB takes on Hawai‘i on Saturday night at 10:00 p.m. in Honolulu.
A version of this story appeared on P.9 of the Oct. 25 print edition of the Daily Nexus.