Destiny – there is no other way to describe the situation in which the #24 UCSB women’s volleyball team finds itself.
Monday afternoon the NCAA released the official bracket for the 2001 NCAA Championships, and the result was everything that the Gauchos could have wanted and more. On Friday night in Long Beach, Santa Barbara will face off against the University of San Diego in the first round of the tournament. Should they advance, they will most likely play arch-rival and #1 ranked Long Beach State in the second round.
“I see this as a plus,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said about the seeding. “We are not going to overlook San Diego. They are a very good team with a good outside hitter. If we get to play Long Beach in the second round I see it as a plus. We always play our best against them. We always find a way to play with our ‘A’ game.”
The UCSB players were not as guarded with their excitement, especially senior setter Brooke Rundle.
“I am so excited,” Rundle said. “We have them in our league and so that is going to be a huge advantage. We know them very well. There aren’t going to be any surprises.”
Santa Barbara has already faced Long Beach twice this year, losing both matches. The first match took place on Sept. 21 and the second on Oct. 20. The Gauchos lost the first match at the Pyramid in five games and dropped the second at home in three straight. However, it is important to note that although the 49ers are the only undefeated team remaining in the country, UCSB has given them more trouble than anyone else this year. Since the five game match in the Pyramid, Long Beach has lost only two games in 24 matches. The Gauchos are the only team to have taken the 49ers to five games this year and they did it in the Niners’ backyard.
“We have been five with them in their own house,” sophomore outside hitter Erica Menzel said. “That is huge for us. We know what to expect when we play Long Beach and we are ready.”
One of the biggest sources of motivation for UCSB will be the knowledge that this will be the final time that the seniors get to square off with their arch-rival.
“When we lost to them last time at home, I thought it was a bad way of ending our season against them,” Menzel added. “That was such a bad taste to leave in the seniors’ mouths. Now we have a chance to change all of that.”
In addition to facing a team they openly despise, the Gauchos will also be trying to be the only team to beat the 49ers all year, and what better time than in the NCAA Tournament.
“It is going to be great to stay in California. A lot of higher ranked California teams are having to go back east and we are glad we don’t have to do that,” Rundle said. “We are going to all have our families there and I hope we can get a lot of fans to come down and watch. It has always been a huge rivalry between us and the Beach. It is going to be great to be involved in one more.”
Although some teams might be a bit apprehensive about playing the best team in the country, the Gauchos relish this opportunity and even issued a warning. Menzel had this to say when asked how she thought Long Beach reacted to the news.
“They have to be scared.”