For the #15 UCSB women’s volleyball team, it’s the old Stockton-Northridge swing.
The Gauchos (7-4, 3-0 in the Big West) are preparing for the most grueling of all their Big West road trips. Not only does Santa Barbara spend over seven hours on a rumbling bus but the Gauchos have to meet their bitter rival from the north at the end of the ride -the #23 Pacific Tigers.
The Tigers (7-4, 2-2 in the Big West) lost two straight on the road to unranked Big West teams and will look to come roaring out of the gate at Alex G. Spanos Center in Stockton tonight at 7. Tiger senior middle blocker Jennifer Joines is the team’s number one option on offense, tallying nearly six kills per game. Joines needs just 37 kills to set a new Tigers career kill record and though that would be a phenomenal performance, it wouldn’t be out of the question if the match goes to five games.
Last weekend’s outstanding performance against Riverside and Fullerton can be attributed to scintillating passing and Santa Barbara Assistant Coach Brooke Niles knows that passing will be extremely important in the match against Pacific.
“Most of the time, we pass with two passers, [senior outside hitter] Erica Menzel and [junior libero] Kristin Nelson,” Niles said. “We’re going to have to pass with three because they have some tough jump servers.”
Joines is one of a trio of Tigers who serve exceptionally well, leading the Big West in service aces per game. Joines sits right ahead of fellow Tiger junior outside hitter Joanna Rentz.
“Our third passer will need to pass well because she will probably end up getting more serves than the others,” Niles said. “But if we can serve tough and take them out of their offense, we’ll do pretty well.”
Pacific also has home field advantage and history on their side. The Tigers own the Gauchos in the all-time series (43-16) and the Spanos Center is not the most welcoming place in the Big West for opponents to visit.
“They have a ton of hecklers from their men’s volleyball team, much like we do at home,” Niles said. “It’s always hard to play when people are yelling and screaming at you all the time.”
Recent history favors the Gauchos as they swept the Tigers in both meetings last year, including the match in Stockton.
“They’re probably the team we like to beat most, next to Long Beach,” Niles said.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Gauchos have completely shaken the early-season jitters and the difficulty of playing with unfamiliar players. The results of last weekend and their current 3-game tear point to a new Gaucho team that can play up to its potential.
“If we get the passing and the accuracy that we got last weekend, it’ll be scary,” freshman outside hitter Janine Sandell said. “We need to pass well and play scrappy out there.”