Unexpected. Dominating. Unbelievable.
Call it what you will, but the No. 6 UCSB women’s volleyball team’s new school record is as impressive as it sounds.
The Gauchos won their 14th and 15th straight matches in sweeps over Utah State and Idaho to start the season 15-0.
“It feels good to start off undefeated,” senior outside hitter Danielle Bauer said. “But it does make it a challenge now that there is more pressure on us. We want to prove ourselves every game, but it is a good thing. It motivates us.”
Friday night’s three-game sweep of Utah State, in front of an unusually large crowd in the Thunderdome for a match against anyone but Long Beach State, was precise and calculated. UCSB won 30-24, 30-21, 30-23, but Santa Barbara was much more dominant than the score read.
On Saturday evening, the Gauchos didn’t have their “A-game.” Yet, Santa Barbara played well enough to win and win big. The 30-27, 30-25, 30-19 victory over Idaho extended UCSB’s winning streak to 15 matches, a school record. But more importantly, the Gauchos received great play from several key players who were inserted into the game by UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory.
“It feels very good to know that we have some depth,” sophomore middle blocker Niki Carroll said. Carroll recorded five kills and four blocks Saturday. “We can look to the bench now a little more than we could early on, and with the end of the season coming up, we might need it.”
Against the Aggies on Friday, senior setter Brooke Niles did an excellent job of spreading the ball around and getting all of her hitters involved offensively in the match. All five starting hitters for the Gauchos hit over .250 and had at least eight kills each. Conversely, Utah State only had three starting hitters with a hitting percentage of .250 or better and two hitters with eight or more kills.
Despite the apparent domination on offense, the real edge the Gauchos held on Friday night was on defense. UCSB out-dug the Aggies 61-41, an unbelievable advantage for a three-game match.
Senior outside hitter Courtney Guerra and junior middle blocker Francina Edmonds both turned in spectacular games. Guerra notched 11 kills, a match-high 15 digs and hit .308. Edmonds, a Jacksonville, Fla. native, was steady all night long with 10 kills and a .358 hitting percentage.
If Santa Barbara used outstanding defense and a consistent offense Friday night to tie its all-time consecutive win mark at 14, then the squad used consistent offense and an intimidating block to break the record of 15.
Although the Gauchos struggled early on in the first game and looked a little sluggish in the second, Santa Barbara dominated the net all night long en route to its twelfth three-game sweep.
“Of course we want to play better, but we understand that we are not always going to play our best,” Niles said. “But we came out with a win.”
Niles and junior outside hitter Erica Menzel highlighted UCSB’s win on Saturday. Niles racked up a team-high 36 assists, two kills and seven digs. Menzel paced the Gauchos both offensively and defensively all night long as she notched her seventh double-double in the past eight matches with 10 kills, a .300 hitting percentage and a team-high 12 digs.
With the two wins this past weekend, Santa Barbara has now won 15-straight regular season matches, something that Gregory’s storied program has never realized.
Tuesday night, the Gauchos will try to extend their winning streak to 16 when they face off against unranked Loyola Marymount University.