The players on the #5 UCSB women’s volleyball team proved that they belong among the elite programs in the country after downing #7 Long Beach State in four games in front of a record crowd of 4,258 fans.
“This was one of the most exciting nights I have ever been a part of in coaching,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said after the match. “To have the crowd and the community being so supportive was just great. That was history.”
The Gauchos pulled off a clutch performance, one that rivals any match in the program’s storied history, with a 30-24, 30-27, 27-30, 30-27 drubbing. The victory put Santa Barbara in control of a Big West crown.
Even before the first serve, the Thunderdome shook raucously as fans piled in from every exit and filled the bleachers to the point where the Events Center staff had to open up an additional level of seating to accommodate all of the fans.
“Our fans were awesome tonight,” sophomore middle blocker Niki Carroll said. “That is why no one wants to come here and play us, and that is one of the reasons that we have had so much success at home over the years.”
The Gaucho fanatics were not disappointed in the opening two games as UCSB cruised out to a 2-0 lead. Senior setter Brooke Niles looked calm and collected in her final home game against the 49ers, consistently distributing the ball to fellow seniors Danielle Bauer and Courtney Guerra.
Bauer played extremely well in the first two games, moving well along the net and mixing up some nice hits with an imposing block.
Bauer’s production tailed off in the third and fourth games. Bauer’s loss, however, would be Guerra’s gain. Guerra turned in what was without a doubt her best performance yet as a Gaucho.
Guerra has never been considered flashy in her first three years as a Gaucho, and her role this season has been to keep the ball in play and maintain a consistent defense. Friday night, however, Guerra was not only consistent but also dominating. The senior, who transferred from California before her sophomore year, pounded ball after ball to the floor Friday night and LBSU could not come up with an answer to her outside dominance.
Juniors Erica Menzel and Francina Edmonds played crucial roles along with freshman Megan Blackshire.
Although most wins in the Big West are taken for granted because most come when the Gauchos merely show up, any win against the hated 49ers is cherished, and Santa Barbara made sure to enjoy its most recent addition to the rivalry.
Friday’s victory, combined with a sweep against Irvine at home on Saturday night and the 49ers’ loss to Cal Poly, moves UCSB (20-0, 11-0 in the Big West) three games ahead in the conference.
“This win puts us ahead by three games in the league and that is huge,” Gregory said. “This puts us in the driver’s seat to win the Big West. I think we are in the best situation of anyone in the league right now.”