The #7 UCSB women’s volleyball team has played so dominantly these days that just winning won’t even suffice. Lately, the Gauchos are finding new ways to impress not only themselves but also their fans.
Santa Barbara (17-0 overall, 7-0 Big West) squared off against Central Coast rival Cal Poly (5-10 overall, 4-3 Big West) on Saturday evening in the Thunderdome, and by the time the night was over, the Gauchos had posted an amazing 77 digs in just three games. Behind a steadfast defense, UCSB cruised to a 30-24, 30-25, 30-19 three-game thrashing victory that extended Santa Barbara’s unbeaten streak to 17 in a row and eight straight over the Mustangs.
“We were really fired up to play Cal Poly,” senior middle blocker Danielle Bauer said. “We have been working hard on being disciplined when we are blocking and that helped channel a lot of balls to our defense.”
The victory allows Santa Barbara to maintain a one game lead over Long Beach State in the Big West Conference. The Gauchos are still one of only four unbeaten teams left in the nation.
Santa Barbara has always been known for its defense and consistently ranks near the top in the Big West and in the nation in digs per game. The display the team put on Saturday night was out of this world.
Senior outside hitter Courtney Guerra set a new career-high and match-high record with 19 digs. Guerra was followed closely by senior setter and All-America candidate Brooke Niles, who had 18 scoops of her own. Also breaking the double-digit mark in digs were junior outside hitter Erica Menzel and sophomore libero Kristin Nelson with 14 and 13 respectively.
“They were rallying with us,” Nelson said. “We just had to keep hanging in and digging became the way that we did it.”
The Gauchos had an impressive night on the offensive side of the ball as well. Bauer posted 22 kills along with a .439 hitting percentage. Bauer’s kill mark was her second highest of the 2002 campaign.
Also getting involved was junior opposite hitter Francina Edmonds. The 6’1″ Jacksonville, Fla. native tallied 12 hits while hitting at an impressive .375 clip. Menzel also sparkled on offense, contributing 11 kills.
Santa Barbara has already tied its win total for all of the 2001 campaign and they still have 13 matches remaining. Last year’s team advanced to the NCAA Tournament, but was dismissed in the first round. Clearly this year’s squad is better than the last, and the expectations they are placing on themselves show that they plan on advancing further into the postseason this year.
“Right now we are just trying to stay undefeated,” Bauer said. “We want to win league, but our ultimate goal is to make it to the Final Four. Right now we are just trying to take it one game at a time, one week at a time, and just keep getting better.”