Most people would jump at the chance to spend three and a half days in Hawaii. The sun, the sand, the people; there is something very magical about the islands. However, when the #22 UCSB women’s volleyball team traveled to Honolulu this past weekend, it went for business.
Monday night the Gauchos (13-11, 10-3 Big West) squared off against #12 Hawaii (21-4, 11-0 Western Athletic Conference) and lost in three tough games, 30-26, 35-33 and 30-27. This is the second match this season in which Santa Barbara has played three games against a ranked opponent and lost them all. The first match was against #1 Long Beach State on Oct. 20 in the Thunderdome. UCSB lost every game in that contest by only two points.
The Gauchos are still in control of their own destiny as their final four matches of the season are against Big West Conference opponents. UCSB is currently in sole possession of third place in the conference, a distinction it must still hold at the end of the regular season if it hopes to earn a tournament berth.
Monday night the Gauchos came out shell-shocked in front of 6,060 fans in the Stan Sheriff Center and quickly fell behind, 9-1. Santa Barbara then picked up its intensity and execution significantly to pull within one, 20-19. From there, Wahine sophomore outside hitter Kim Willoughby started to take over. Willoughby tallied 13 kills in game one alone.
Game two was the most contested game of the match, with neither team able to make a substantial run to pull away. Near the end of the game, the Gauchos actually held a 29-27 advantage, but then Willoughby struck again. The sophomore reeled off four straight points and bolstered the home team to a dramatic 35-33 victory. Willoughby had 13 kills in game two as well.
The final frame of the night was a mirror image of the first, as the Rainbow Wahine opened up an early lead only to see UCSB claw its way back into the game, 18-18. With the game on the line, Hawaii again looked to its star outside hitter, and she did not disappoint, leading the Wahine to victory, 30-27.
The story of the night was the play of Willoughby, who finished the contest with 34 kills in just three games. Her 34 kills were not only a school record, they were also the ninth most kills in a match in NCAA history. The most amazing part of the feat was that she tallied so many kills in only three games. All eight of the women above her on the NCAA list played in matches that were at least four games long.
The brightest performer for the Gauchos on Monday was junior outside hitter Courtney Guerra. Guerra was sitting on the bench just two weeks ago with a wrist injury, and against Hawaii she led the Gauchos with 15 kills and a career-tying 18 digs. Guerra evidently enjoys playing in Hawaii. Last season she set and tied her career high of 20 kills in consecutive matches in the NCAA Tournament.
UCSB will play a set of away matches this weekend and then finish up the regular season at home on Nov. 16 and 17 against Pacific and Cal State Northridge.