In the past, a split against Long Beach State and UC Irvine for #16 Gaucho women’s volleyball (11-6, 7-2 in the Big West) usually meant a quick win over the Anteaters and a heartbreaking loss to the 49ers.

This pattern was reversed last weekend as the Gauchos suffered a five-game defeat at the hands of UCI (16-5, 7-2 in the Big West) on Friday night 30-28, 29-31, 33-35, 30-25, 15-11. Santa Barbara bounced back the next evening and disposed of Long Beach (11-5, 6-3 in the Big West) in four, 25-30, 30-18, 30-25, 35-33.

Friday’s exciting match began with an Anteater victory in game one, thanks in part to the Gauchos’ paltry .150 attacking percentage. UCSB bounced back in the next two sets, hitting .314 in game two and triumphing 35-33 in game three despite being out-hit by Irvine. UCI fired a counterattack and took the final two games, securing first place in the Big West after Gaucho freshman outside hitter Emily Hendrickson’s serve went into the net. Irvine used double-digit kill totals from five players to earn the win, and UCI junior outside hitter Kelly Wing led the Anteater barrage with 33 kills on 89 swings while junior setter Ashlie Hain dished off an eye-popping 79 assists.

“Every single game was close, and we could have won every single game,” UCSB senior outside hitter Erica Menzel said. “But it was fun, and we’re excited for when they come to the Thunderdome.”

The Gauchos started off poorly against Long Beach State the next night, yielding seven straight 49er points and watching a 24-19 lead dissolve into a 30-25 game one loss. Long Beach junior outside hitter Erika Chidester spiked nine balls and sophomore libero Heather Laudato contributed six of her career-high 29 digs to the 49er effort.

UCSB jumped out to a 7-1 lead in game two, prompting Long Beach Head Coach Brian Gimmillaro to call an early time-out. What transpired next would only make the colorful 49er coach more livid, as the Gauchos used 5-0 and 11-3 runs to put the game away easily, 30-18.

Santa Barbara built a 19-18 lead in game three and then began to pull away from the Beach, scoring three straight points capped by a Menzel block solo to take a 25-20 lead into another 49er timeout. Junior setter Mari Bell served up an ace and freshman middle blocker Olivia Waldowski stuffed Chidester at the net to close out game three.

In game four, neither team got ahead by more than four points, battling neck-and-neck once they had tied the score at 20. The Gauchos handed the ball to Hendrickson with the match on the line and the scoreboard reading 29-28 Santa Barbara, and Hendrickson served into the net on match point for the second consecutive night to let the 49ers back into the game.

“Both times, I tried to make a competitive serve,” Hendrickson said confidently. “I’d rather fail trying to serve it well, than succeed with a weak serve.”

Four Gaucho match points later, sophomore middle blocker Megan Blackshire slid behind Bell and pounded the back set to the floor to seal the Gaucho win. Both teams had run out of substitutions toward the end of the game, and UCSB had two freshmen, Hendrickson and outside hitter Jamie Garbisch, in the front row on the final point.

“We didn’t keep them in the games against Irvine,” Santa Barbara Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “But I was going to use them against Long Beach in that situation if it came up again.”

The decision worked for UCSB, as Garbisch set up the Gauchos’ final match point with her second kill of the night and Hendrickson scooped out a team-high 14 balls.

“With so many young players, it wasn’t a guarantee that we’d have enough fight left for Long Beach,” Gregory said. “We fought so hard on Friday and lost, but I’m very proud that we came together and had some fight on Saturday, and that made the victory even more satisfying.”

Blackshire led the team with 16 kills, and Waldowski had 12 kills and led the team with seven blocks. Menzel earned a double-double with 16 kills and 13 digs while senior outside hitter Francina Edmonds broke out of a slump with eight kills and a .273 hitting percentage.

As a team, the Gauchos doubled up the 49ers at the net and then some, amassing 13.5 team blocks to Long Beach’s six. Every Gaucho attacker hit at a significantly positive rate for the first time since their impressive .468 showing against Cal State Fullerton.

“For the first time, we had all of our hitters on the positive, so that was a big plus,” Gregory said. “It was especially good to see Fran come out with a solid performance.”

Chidester, normally a middle blocker, had 29 kills to lead all players, and the 49ers outdug the Gauchos by a margin of twenty, 76-56.

Irvine blew their precious one-game lead over UCSB with an upset loss to Cal Poly Saturday night and dropped back into a first-place tie with Santa Barbara.

“Obviously, we took a lot out of them on Friday,” Gregory said. “Maybe it was tough for them to play long matches back-to-back.”

It certainly wasn’t easy for the Gauchos to do the same, but they haven’t played a three-game match since hosting lowly Fullerton over three weeks ago, so the Gauchos have been primed for long points and grueling matches. Three of their last six matches have gone the five-game limit, and they are 4-2 over that span.