As the regular season winds down, the UCSB women’s volleyball team isn’t playing for a playoff spot. At 6-6 in Big West play and 14-10 overall, the team’s next four games will be its last in 2018.
However, that doesn’t mean the Gauchos don’t have anything to play for.
One more conference win would equal their seven-win total from last season, and fourth place, currently held by the 8-5 UC Davis Aggies, is within reach.
But just because it’s in reach doesn’t mean it will be easy. UCSB must more or less close out its season with four wins in a row, starting this week with matches at UC Irvine on Thursday and at Davis on Saturday.
Neither opponent will be easy for the Gauchos to defeat. Both teams beat UCSB the first time around, with Irvine pulling off a contentious 3-1 victory back in mid-September and Davis battling back from a 2-0 set deficit to steal a 3-2 win in the Thunderdome just over a month ago.
Both matches were close ones that UCSB had its chances to win, which should give the team some hope going into the week. On the other hand, matching up with the two will only be harder when the Gauchos take their show on the road this week.
First up is Irvine, the third-place Big West team with a 15-10 overall record and a 9-4 record in conference play. The Anteaters started
Big West play on a tear with six wins in their first seven games, but they have cooled off recently, going 3-3 since.
UCSB is sort of a tune-up for Irvine, who closes its season with matches against first-place Cal Poly and second-place Hawaii. The opportunity exists, then, for the Gauchos to take advantage of what may be a sort of trap game for the forward-looking Anteaters.
Irvine has a balanced attack with no one player standing out. Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Loryn Carter leads the team with 2.91 kills per set, but four other players have around two kills per set as well. One of those players, Abby Marjama, has excelled in Big West play with 3.07 kills per set.
The Gauchos struggled to stop that balanced attack the first time around, something they’ll have to improve upon to win on Thursday night.
UCSB will also have to replicate its own balanced performance from that first matchup, when Charlie Robinson and Torre Glasker backed up Lindsey Ruddins’s 23 kills with double-digit totals of their own.
There won’t be much time for UCSB to regroup after its Thursday match. The Gauchos will have to travel back up the state to Davis almost immediately in order to take on the Aggies on Saturday night. When they do so, they’ll be seeking to avenge their incredible collapse in late September.
Saturday’s match will also be Senior Night for Davis’s class of seniors, a group that includes standout outside hitter Emily Allen. Allen leads the Aggies in kills per set with 3.76 this year and is 15th in the Big West with 2.99 digs per set.
Allen is also a Santa Barbara native and the sister of UCSB’s Chloe Allen. Senior Night, then, will likely be extra special for the Allen family.
The Gauchos will have to overcome any sort of emotional lift UCD may get from their departing seniors in order to win. UCSB established clearly that it can beat the Aggies in their first matchup, but the Gauchos have to actually close the deal and do it on the road this time around.
A repeat performance from junior middle blocker Charlie Robinson, who had a career-high 22 kills in the first UCD-UCSB clash, would go a long way for the Gauchos on their quest for vengeance. Robinson hasn’t broken double-digits in the kills category in any game since, however, so UCSB may need to find new sources of offense in order to win.
If the Gauchos can do that against Davis on Saturday and stifle the balanced attack of Irvine on Thursday, they’ll stand a chance of sweeping the week and besting their conference mark of last season. Playoffs might be out of the picture, but there’s still plenty to play for.
A version of this story appeared on p. 7 of the Nov. 11, 2018, edition of the Daily Nexus