If there were hip pockets on those spandex shorts, the #23 Tigers would have had last night’s match tucked inside of them.
Instead the #15 UCSB women’s volleyball team (8-4, 4-0 in the Big West) overcame a two-game deficit to seal its fourth straight win, 30-32, 17-30, 30-26, 30-25, 15-12.
Pacific (7-5, 2-3 in the Big West) and Santa Barbara endured a long duel in game one, knotting up the score 17 times before the Tigers finally scored three consecutive points, capped by Tiger freshman outside hitter Stevie Mussie’s back-to-back kills. UOP ran away with game two, hitting .341, getting six kills from three-time All-American senior middle blocker Jennifer Joines and holding the Gauchos to a .143 attacking percentage.
“We self-destructed in the second game,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “In the locker room, I told them they were soft and that this was not a Gaucho team.”
Gregory called for aggressive serving and all-out defense, and that’s exactly what the Gauchos delivered in game three. Senior outside hitter Erica Menzel had five kills and six scoops in the third frame, and junior setter Mari Bell took a tight pass and dumped it over the net on the second hit to seal the deal and force a fourth game.
Menzel led the attack in game four, smacking eight balls to the floor while Bell dished out 18 passes. Freshman middle blocker Olivia Waldowski had a breakout performance with 12 kills and four blocks on the night, including the put-away that tied the contest at two games apiece.
“Everybody started to pick up their game,” Gregory said. “You’ve got to play like you’re a hungry player on every play, and we came out and did that.”
Game five was a wild affair, with eight tie scores and six lead changes. Waldowski and freshman outside hitter Janine Sandell had a huge block together to pull up to the Tigers, 10-10, with Waldowski getting most of the attack by Joines.
“Olivia came out of nowhere with that block,” Gregory said, though both Waldowski and Sandell were credited with block assists. “That was the turning point in that last game.”
With the Gauchos ahead 14-12, Menzel returned a serve from Pacific sophomore outside hitter Ashley Groothius, and the ball headed over the net to UOP’s side, but the Tigers inexplicably let the ball fall to the floor. In the end, the Gauchos were the winners of one of the most exciting contests in school history.
“Coming up to UOP is always difficult,” Gregory said. “If you can win up here in Pacific and come back from 2-0, it ranks as one of the top victories.”
Menzel had an amazing night, notching 23 kills and a career-high 23 digs, and junior libero Kristin Nelson was a bulldozer with a personal-best 26 digs of her own. Bell, senior outside hitter Fran Edmonds and sophomore middle blocker Megan Blackshire also hit in double figures for Santa Barbara. Joines led the Tigers with 30 kills, her sixth straight match with 20 or more.