Few things are as awe-inspiring and emotionally charging as watching a sporting event in which your favorite player gets injured, only to return against all odds to try and help the team on to victory.
That is exactly what senior setter Brooke Niles is trying to do tonight when the No. 10 UCSB women’s volleyball team will play its most anticipated road match of the season against hated rival and national powerhouse No. 6 Long Beach State.
“It would take more than a sprained ankle to keep Brooke Niles out of a game against Long Beach,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “Her ankle may not be 100 percent, but after all she has done for this program, we can’t keep her out of the lineup.”
Niles suffered her injury last Saturday night during the Gauchos’ 3-0 victory over No. 24 University of the Pacific. After leading Santa Barbara to an easy game one victory 30-22, and leading big in the second game, Niles’ ankle was taken out by a Tiger attacker who could not control her momentum as she landed after spiking a ball.
“I didn’t hear a pop so I knew what it wasn’t that bad,” Niles said about the accident. “It was just too bad that it had to happen the week before Long Beach, but Mari [Bell] came in and set really well.”
Fortunately, the Gauchos have a more than adequate backup setter in sophomore Mari Bell. Bell saw action in 28 games last season and has played well this preseason. Bell’s consistent play helped Santa Barbara hold on to defeat Pacific.
Even though Bell could handle the load if needed against the 49ers, it is easy to see why the Gauchos are very excited to have Niles back in the lineup. The 5’9″ native of Woodland Hills was awarded the Most Valuable Player award at the Gauchos’ first two preseason tournaments. Niles is not only a Big West Player of the Year candidate but will also be gearing up for All-American honors as well.
Having Niles in the lineup against the 49ers could prove to be the difference at the Pyramid tonight. Yet the Gauchos know that their success will come as a team, and they all must perform as well as they can if they hope to pull out what would undoubtedly be considered a tough road victory.
“We all have to play really well if we want to win,” sophomore Niki Carroll said. “But that is the difference between last year and this year. We aren’t taking anything for granted. We have set our standards high and we are doing everything that we can to achieve them.”