Everything is magnified in the postseason and this weekend’s challenge for the #24 UCSB women’s volleyball team is no different.
The Gauchos (17-13) will square off against the University of San Diego (21-8) on Friday night in the Pyramid at 5:30 and should they win that match, they will most likely face #1 Long Beach State (28-0) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“Whenever you get into the NCAA’s, you just want to play,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said on Thursday. “We always seem to play better the deeper we get into the tournament, as does everyone else, so I just hope we can win on Friday night and get things started off right.”
If Santa Barbara wants to get anything started against the Torreros on Friday night, it will need to get it done on both aspects of the game. UCSB has been struggling with its defense and ball handling as of late, and it must excel at both of these things if it hopes to advance.
“We are going to need to pass well,” Gregory said. “If we pass well it will help us get into an offensive rhythm and we always play much better when we are in rhythm.”
On the other side of the net, UCSB is expecting to see almost a mirror image of itself. San Diego is a team that is built on taking care of the ball and executing with precision, as are the Gauchos.
“They are consistent, with ball control and good hitters,” Gregory said. “Their passing is excellent, so we will also have to serve well.”
Should Santa Barbara pull out their match on Friday night, they face Big West rival LBSU for the third time this season. The 49ers won the first two matchups.
“There are no surprises in this match,” Gregory said. “You just hope that you can do some things you need to do and you hope you can play up to your best level. They are a very balanced team.”
The two biggest factors for the Gauchos this weekend will be the play of the two Brookes. Junior setter and outside hitter Brooke Niles and senior setter Brooke Rundle are the lifeblood of this year’s Santa Barbara squad, and the success of UCSB will rest squarely on their shoulders.
“Niles and Rundle will both play this weekend,” Gregory said, “But it won’t be a double switch [as it has been in the past]. We need to have Niles on the court all the time, but we need Rundle’s intensity as well.”
One thing is for sure, Santa Barbara wants to play Long Beach, but the opposite is not necessarily true.