The #5 UCSB women’s volleyball team had to battle bad weather and two middle-of-the-pack conference opponents this past weekend to secure the 22nd and 23rd consecutive wins of the season.
“We played well on the road, and that is always something we try to do,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “We could have been in some trouble this weekend, but we played well and I think that our chemistry and our defense were good.”
The Gauchos handled Idaho in three easy games Thursday night, trouncing the Vandals 30-28, 30-21, 30-15. Santa Barbara stumbled only ever so slightly Saturday night needing four games to dispatch pesky Utah State, 30-19, 29-30, 30-20, 30-23.
Thursday evening, Santa Barbara played what has become a trademark match against the Vandals. The Gauchos dominated in every aspect of the game, especially defense. While Santa Barbara only garnered three more digs than Idaho, the Gauchos outblocked the Vandals 16-4.5.
Junior outside hitter Erica Menzel and senior outside hitter/middle blocker Danielle Bauer led the offensive charge. Menzel and Bauer each recorded 14 and 12 kills, respectively, to set the tone for the Gauchos who out hit Idaho .320 to .126.
The match against a rugged Aggie squad on Saturday did not follow the script that Gregory might have had in mind.
Utah State, traditionally the fourth-best team in the Big West behind UCSB, Long Beach State and Pacific, boast great home crowds and a tough venue.
Santa Barbara knew what to expect coming into the match, and jumped out early to a decisive 30-19 game one win. In the second game, the tide turned, and USU squeaked out a late rally to tie the match at 1-1. Game two was all the incentive the Gauchos would need to bring their “A” game, and they went on to thoroughly trounce the Aggies in the final two games.
The Gauchos owned the defensive statistical categories against the Aggies, tallying 20 more digs and eight more blocks than the opponent. Menzel alone notched 27 digs.
The dramatic increase in blocks in recent matches has the Gaucho faithful pleasantly surprised.
“We are really blocking well,” senior All-American candidate Brooke Niles said. “We have been working double on it in practice recently, and we are learning to trust our defense a little better and be more disciplined at the net.”
UCSB will need all the blocking they can get on Wednesday night in the Thunderdome when the team hosts a powerful and dangerous #10 Pepperdine team. A win on Wednesday would once again legitimize the program’s lofty ranking.
“We are going to try our hardest to win, but it is just another game,” Gregory said. “They are a California rival and we always have good games, so it is going to be fun. I just don’t want to focus on the rankings right now. We just want to focus on winning matches.”