When the UCSB women’s volleyball team finished the 2000 season, the Gauchos were intent on making their 2001 campaign even better than the one they had just completed.
This would prove to be no easy task, as Santa Barbara had advanced all the way to the Elite Eight, compiled an impressive 26-8 record and finished the year ranked 9th in the nation. The Gauchos, however, were returning senior All-American setter Brooke Rundle and All-Big West performers Brooke Niles, Erica Menzel and Danielle Bauer, as well as solid all-around players Courtney Guerra and Brie Lampe.
“Things looked like they were going to be so good for us this year,” senior outside hitter Lampe said, “but somewhere along the road, things just turned sour.”
Unfortunately, the Gauchos found that the success they had achieved in 2000 was proving to be more elusive in 2001. The season started out with back-to-back disasters against Wisconsin and then #1 Nebraska. UCSB took just one game off the Badgers and none off the Cornhuskers.
Santa Barbara rebounded the next weekend by taking two of its next three matches in a tournament at Santa Clara, but the Gauchos could not pull off a victory over the nationally ranked Broncos and fell into another dismal 0-3 loss.
UCSB tried to put the pieces of its fragile puzzle back together as it suffered an unexpected nine-day break in action and as the players, as well as the rest of the country, tried to cope with the horrific events of Sept. 11. When they returned to the court against the Trojans, their legs may have been well rested but their minds were elsewhere, as they lost 3-0.
Three days later, Santa Barbara squared off against its arch-nemesis and then #1 Long Beach State. At the end of three games, the Gauchos held an improbable 2-1 advantage. But UCSB couldn’t contain the nation’s top team. In the end, it was the 49ers who narrowly escaped with a five-game victory.
After getting back on the victory train with a sleeper against Irvine, the Gauchos traveled north for what would prove to be one of the most entertaining road trips of the season. UCSB dropped the first match 0-3 to BYU but pulled out an improbabe five-game victory on the road against #25 Utah State.
The win against the Aggies was one of the highlights of the season for Head Coach Kathy Gregory. “The win over Utah State was a good one. We were down early and we rallied to come back and win that one. That was one of the best matches we played all year.”
Santa Barbara cleaned up its road trip by sweeping Idaho in Moscow before returning to the Central Coast.
The Gauchos kicked their intensity up a notch when #1 and undefeated Long Beach State visited the Thunderdome on Oct. 20. Another chapter to the saga was written when the 49ers sneaked out of the Events Center with a three-game sweep. However, only two points decided each game and any of the sets could have gone to either team. Even though UCSB lost in three, it was one of the most entertaining home volleyball matches in years.
With a new sense of confidence, the Gauchos rattled off seven victories in their final 12 matches to secure a third-place finish in the Big West Conference.
The Gauchos entered the NCAA Tournament knowing that a win in round one would almost certainly pit them against LBSU in the next round. However, Santa Barbara couldn’t escape an experienced University of San Diego squad, squandering a 2-0 lead to lose in five games.
UCSB finished the year unranked for the first time since 1975, and it seems as if there are more questions than answers for next year’s team.
“The seniors have an urgency about next year,” Gregory said. “Now we have seen what happens when you take winning for granted and everyone is going to hold everyone accountable and get everyone on the same page.”