So close, yet so far away.

The #7 UCSB women’s volleyball team battled #1 USC for as long as the Gauchos could hold on, but in the end, it just wasn’t enough.

The women of Troy emerged from a raucous Thunderdome unscathed with a 30-28, 30-20, 30-26 three-game victory that almost assured the Trojans of hosting a regional and guaranteed that the Gauchos will travel for their third- and fourth-round matches.

“We needed to play against a team like that,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “Next time we will be better.”

Despite its impressive performance, many members of the UCSB squad were disappointed after the match.

“We could have won any of those three games tonight,” junior opposite Francina Edmonds said. “If we play the way we did tonight, this is the only team that could beat us.”

If Edmonds’ statements seem brash, they aren’t, because she spoke the truth. The statistics don’t reflect the true flow of the match, for Santa Barbara played its best all-around match of the season.

Defense, which has been a trademark of the Gauchos for years, kept Santa Barbara in the match. The Trojans recorded 76 digs as a team, but the Gauchos almost matched them with 75.

Unfortunately, it was the Gaucho offense that seemed to let down the second-largest crowd in women’s volleyball history at the Thunderdome. The 2,794 fans in attendance saw what could only be described as a tentative UCSB offensive team at times. At times, the Gauchos tipped balls that many in attendance thought that they could have taken a full swing at. Gregory did not completely agree.

“I thought that at times tonight we were aggressive, but at times we were also tentative,” she said. “At the beginning of the match the tips were going down but at the end they weren’t. We need to learn to play with a big block, keep swinging aggressively and win some of the long rallies. We needed to just play the biggest points better.”

The Gauchos may have played one of their best matches of the year, but so too did the Santa Barbara faithful in attendance.

The Santa Barbara faithful who filled the T-dome served as an invaluable force that the Trojans did not expect.

“When the men’s volleyball team came in in all of their outfits, I was scared,” USC sophomore Emily Adams said. “We were expecting a loud crowd, but we didn’t anticipate the Gaucho fans that turned out.”

Tuesday’s match marked the final regular season match that seniors Brooke Niles, Courtney Guerra and Danielle Bauer will ever play in the Thunderdome. A win tonight would also have marked the 700th win of Gregory’s career, but it was not to be.

“If we were going to beat them,” sophomore libero Kristen Nelson said, “We were going to have to go for it. I don’t know if we did that tonight.”

Despite its regrets, the women’s volleyball team knows that the next time they play a team of the same caliber, the players on the squad knows they will play better.

“We played well,” Nelson said. “We hadn’t seen a team that good all season long. Now we know what to expect. Next time we play a team this good there is going to be a different outcome.”