The #19 UCSB women’s volleyball team twice came within one point of bagging quick three-game wins against Utah State and Idaho this weekend, but let game three slip in each contest, delaying inevitable victory each time.
Santa Barbara (10-5, 6-1 in the Big West) played two of the longest single games in school history since the dawn of rally-scoring, but still came away tied with Irvine for first place in the Big West after two weekend wins. The Gauchos defeated the Aggies 39-37, 30-21, 30-32, 24-30, 15-10, then thumped the Vandals 30-24, 30-25, 33-35, 30-26.
Santa Barbara, in only its third home match of the season, found themselves behind unranked USU (9-7, 2-4 in the Big West) 28-23 in game one on Friday night before pulling ahead 30-29 thanks to some key Aggie errors. That would be the first of nine consecutive game points for UCSB, and the Gauchos wouldn’t put it away until Utah State committed a hitting error to make game one the highest-scoring frame in Santa Barbara history at 39-37. Junior setter Mari Bell scored a block solo to clinch game two while the rest of the Gauchos hit a collective .250 to the Aggies’ .100 attacking percentage.
Utah State and Santa Barbara battled neck-and-neck in game three, but the Aggies took advantage of two Gaucho attacking errors to pull out the win after falling behind 29-28 late in the game. USU senior middle blocker Erin Cartwright-Davis notched eight kills and was complemented by sophomore middle blocker Zuzana Cernianska with six. The two in the middle ended up combining for 51 of their team’s 86 kills for the night.
The teams traded 7-2 runs to open up game four, and the Aggies finally ran away with it, scoring six straight points after tying the game at 20. Utah State hit .310 in the fourth game while the Gauchos made good on only one of every four swings. USU was flying high, ahead 6-4 in the final set, but sophomore middle blocker Megan Blackshire served up seven straight points for the Gauchos, tallying an ace and two kills along the way to help Santa Barbara sew up the match. Blackshire hit an impressive .588 en route to a team-leading 22 kills, and senior outside hitter Erica Menzel amassed 14 kills and dug out 17 balls for a nifty double-double.
“You need to play longer games to see how tough you are,” Gaucho Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “It wasn’t pretty, but we gutted it out and our defense was good.”
Fatigue wasn’t a problem for the Gauchos as they bested the Idaho Vandals (7-8, 1-6 in the Big West) in four games. Freshman middle blocker Olivia Waldowski hit an efficient .563 and earned 10 kills and three service aces, while Menzel led the way with 21 kills. Blackshire continued her fantastic weekend with a .516 hitting percentage and 18 kills.
The Gauchos couldn’t shut the door again in game three, leading 29-25 before falling to a 5-0 Vandal run courtesy of three service aces by junior setter Mandy Becker. Santa Barbara bounced right back and won in game four to put the match away, connecting at a .406 clip on their attacks.
“When we play more games, we understand our weaknesses and strengths,” Waldowski said after attempting only 10 attacks in Friday night’s marathon but getting more looks on Saturday. “It doesn’t make us tired, it just makes us better.”
The Gauchos will have to be much better to maintain their position atop the Big West as they will embark on a trip to Irvine and Long Beach next weekend. The Anteaters beat the 49ers in five games to break a three-way tie for first place, and Santa Barbara will face them both on consecutive nights.
“If we don’t do something against Long Beach and Irvine next weekend, it’s going to be tough to win this league,” Gregory said.