Riding a five-match winning streak, the #24 UCSB women’s volleyball team was hoping to pull off the improbable Saturday night at the Thunderdome against #1 Long Beach State. Unfortunately for the Gauchos, the Beach proved too strong, as it held off Santa Barbara in three straight games, 31-29, 30-28 and 32-30.
The weekend could by no means be considered a disappointment, as the Gauchos (10-8, 8-2) defeated Irvine (2-14, 0-8) on Friday night in three no-contest games, 30-18, 30-13 and 30-17.
“I think we were very competitive this weekend,” senior middle blocker/opposite Brieanna Lampe said. “That is something that we need to do in order to be successful, and we didn’t do it at the beginning of the year. We just couldn’t pull it off in the end.”
Santa Barbara’s last match-up with Long Beach (15-0, 10-0) took place on Sept. 21 at the Pyramid. UCSB fought as hard as it could in that match, but Long Beach pulled out a dramatic five-game victory. To date, Santa Barbara is still the only school to have taken the Beach to five games, and many were anticipating that if any team were to beat LBSU this season in the Big West, it would be the Gauchos.
The match began with a long rally that was ended by a tip from Lampe. The crowd erupted. Long Beach quickly turned the tables and stormed to leads of 12-6 and 21-15 before Santa Barbara regained its composure. The two teams then battled to a 29-29 tie. But Long Beach came back with a kill and a block to steal game one, 31-29.
Game two was a much tighter affair, as both teams found themselves deadlocked early on at 14-13. Santa Barbara even held a promising lead of 26-24 near the end of the game, but Long Beach rattled off five of the last seven points to claim the game 30-28 and take a commanding two games to nothing lead.
The final game was a combination of tremendous effort and untimely errors for Santa Barbara. The Gauchos occupied the driver’s seat for most of the last game until a number of crucial breakdowns at the end of the game sealed their fate.
At 29-27, sophomore outside hitter Erica Menzel had an opportunity to end the game on an overpass, but a brilliant play by the Long Beach defense kept the match alive. UCSB again had an opportunity to wrap up the game with a 30-29 lead, but again it was to no avail. Long Beach came up with a sideout and two huge blocks to maintain its undefeated record.
“Going into the game, we knew we had to get them to 28-28,” junior outside hitter/opposite Brooke Niles told the Santa Barbara News-Press. “I don’t think we were going to win any blowouts. That was our goal, but we just couldn’t put them away at the end. We had some mental breakdowns and couldn’t finish when we had to. I wish it could’ve ended a different way. But I’m really happy with my team. We played hard but just couldn’t pull it out.”
Friday night was a night to forget for the Anteaters. Santa Barbara not only had its way with UCI, but also cleared its bench against them. All twelve players on the roster saw considerable action and contributed to the throttling.
Despite the win against Irvine, the Gauchos are having a tough time getting over the loss to Long Beach.
“If that’s No. 1 and we’re 23, we’re only two points away,” head coach Kathy Gregory told the Santa Barbara News-Press. “What does that mean for us? It means that on any night you have a chance to win, and tonight we had a chance to compete with Long Beach. But the bottom line is that you have to win the close games.”