That old rule that prohibits midterms, paper due dates, and any other kind of test from falling on Halloween will prove to be a myth for the #19 Gaucho women’s volleyball team this weekend.
Santa Barbara (13-6, 9-2 in the Big West) has had a chance to study for the upcoming exam, though, as they are facing second-place Northridge (12-7, 8-3 in the Big West) Friday night at 7 and fifth-place Pacific (11-6, 6-5) Saturday evening at 7 for the second time this season.
Four weeks ago, UCSB split the road series against the two teams, triumphing in Stockton in five games and then dropping a four-game match to the Matadors for the upset loss. Northridge has not lost a conference game since then, blowing through Irvine and Long Beach State last weekend to vault into second place.
CSUN senior middle blocker Jennifer Fopma, a transfer from Pepperdine playing her last year of NCAA eligibility as a Matador, has ravaged conference foes with over five kills a game and is on the heels of a 56-kill weekend that brought home her third Big West Player of the Week award of the season.
“Fopma has definitely raised the level of CSUN,” Gaucho Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “She’s doing everything on the court to help them win, and she wants the ball under pressure.”
Fopma amassed seven blocks and 10 digs in both of the Matadors’ matches last week as well, but she has help from junior setter Nadine Nickel, who is better than her 12 assists per game average would indicate. Northridge also tops the conference with nearly two service aces in each game, meaning that the Gauchos will need accurate passing to take that weapon away from their opponent.
“[Nickel] knows when and where to set [Fopma],” Gregory said. “We won’t be getting a break on the serves. They’ve got six good servers.”
The Tigers, usually the fiercer rival in this series, are mired in fifth place behind four teams and need a perfect weekend on the Central Coast to make a break for the postseason. Pacific’s dominating middle blocker, three-time All-American senior Jennifer Joines, leads the conference in kills per game and pounded a career-high 30 kills against Santa Barbara the last time the two teams faced each other.
“The secret to beating UOP is to hold [Joines] down,” Gregory said. “She can dominate a match like no other player.”
UCSB is playing another game with first place on the line and can use the two-game set to pull away from the crowded situation at the top of the Big West standings. Gregory feels that the Gauchos “are not responding to the fight for first place” as much as they are out to beat Northridge, “a team that beat [them] last time.”