It was a glorious weekend for the No. 10 UCSB women’s volleyball team as they not only knocked off their biggest rival, No. 6 Long Beach State at the Pyramid, but also defeated Big West opponent UC Irvine to complete a perfect weekend.
“This weekend was huge for us,” senior setter Brooke Niles said. “These were two wins that we really wanted to have, and it was great to see us get better as a team.”
Niles may have enjoyed watching her team play well this weekend, but UCSB was just as excited to have her on the floor. The senior from Calabasas High School, who was sidelined on crutches as late as Wednesday, pushed through the pain and led her team to victory Friday night on the road in one of the most hostile environments in college volleyball.
“The Pyramid was packed,” Niles said. “The crowd was loud and the only fans we had there were our parents. It was nice to shut them up.”
Shut them up was exactly what the Gauchos did early on as they bolted out to a two games to nothing lead after winning the first two frames 30-27 and 30-26. But after the intermission, things changed dramatically. The 49ers squeaked out a tight 32-30 win and extended the match to four games. In the fourth game the wheels fell off for the Gauchos. Long Beach put on a display and smacked Santa Barbara in the mouth 30-15.
In the fifth game, however, the Gauchos’ attack came back to life along with a little inspiration from the smallest woman on the team, freshman defensive specialist Quinn Dibble. Dibble entered in the middle of the game and made an immediate impact with her tough serving and her stellar defense. Seniors Danielle Bauer and Courtney Guerra came alive offensively and the Gauchos cruised to a seemingly easy game five victory, winning 15-11.
“That win means so much to us as a team,” sophomore blocker Niki Carroll said. “For us to go into the Pyramid and knock off the team that has been in our way for the last couple of years is a huge confidence boost for us.”
Santa Barbara had to be careful not to suffer a letdown on Saturday night after Friday’s emotional win, and fortunately it did not. Playing at the Bren Center in Irvine the Gauchos found a way to win even though their heads may have been left behind the night before at the Pyramid.
The Gauchos played sloppy volleyball, but emerged with a 30-27, 30-22, 30-24 victory. Senior Danielle Bauer and junior Francina Edmonds highlighted the victory with their consistent offensive play. Both women had a hitting percentage over .550 and garnered double digits in kills.
“Both [Edmonds and Bauer] played so well tonight,” sophomore Kristin Nelson said. “We didn’t play our best, but they really pulled us through.”
Again, Niles played on her a severely sprained ankle that looked more like a purple cantaloupe after the match than anything else.
“She is playing hurt and that is something that shows us how much she wants to win,” Carroll said. “That is the kind of thing that fires our team up and reminds us of the sacrifices that we have all committed to make this year in order for us to succeed and win.”
Santa Barbara will be in action again this weekend at home on Friday and Saturday night in the Thunderdome against Utah State and Idaho.