This weekend the #5 UCSB women’s volleyball team will embark on what most would consider a meaningless road trip against perennial Big West bottom dwellers Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside.
Meaningless, that is, unless the Gauchos (17-0 overall, 6-0 in the Big West) have aspirations for their first ever outright Big West Championship and a chance at an unthinkable perfect season.
“I don’t think motivation for this weekend is going to be a problem,” freshman defensive specialist Quinn Dibble said. “Not at all. We have to take every game one at a time and we can’t get caught up in everyone wanting us to look ahead.”
Looking ahead, Santa Barbara will see its biggest game of the season scheduled. Next Friday night, the Gauchos will host their most hated rival of all, #7 Long Beach State, in what will not only be a matchup of national heavyweights but also of the top two teams in the Big West.
But before UCSB can shift their focus to the match that all the players admittedly look forward to more than any other during the season, the Gauchos must first make their way through a Southern California swing that may be more dangerous than first anticipated.
Fullerton and Riverside pose a threat to the Gauchos as hungry underdogs, hoping to make mid-season impressions at home.
The two major preseason polls ranked Santa Barbara #20 and #15 respectively, earlier this year. At the time, even the most optimistic UCSB fans and supporters would have been hard-pressed to admit that they expected much more out of this year’s squad than a measly second-place finish in the Big West. Santa Barbara has defied expectations in 2002 by relying on its steady passing game and defensive hustle, to form one of the best ball control teams in the nation.
“We always seem to pass well and play good defense,” senior setter and All-America candidate Brooke Niles said. “In the past, our offense hasn’t always been effective, but the one thing that we can always rely on is our defense.”
Should UCSB run into trouble this weekend, UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory will look to her team’s great forearm ball-control to get them out of any tight spots and right the ship.
“What keeps us consistent is our passing and our defense,” Gregory said. “It has been inconsistent at times, but it has never faltered.”