Santa Barbara saw its conference lead cut in half Thursday with an upset loss to unranked Idaho in four games, 27-30, 30-28, 30-28, and 34-32. But #19 UCSB bounced back Saturday night, sweeping Utah State 30-24, 30-28, and 30-27 to maintain its slim one-game lead over Northridge heading into the final three matches of the Big West season.
The stunning defeat was the first ever in Gaucho history at the hands of the Vandals (15-10, 6-8 in the Big West), and it took scintillating hitting performances from one of the Idaho program’s best one-two punches in school history.
Senior Anna-Marie Hammond and junior Sarah Meek, both middle blockers, each had 18 kills and hit .421 and .317 respectively to lead all attackers on the floor. The rest of the Vandal team posted a horrible .060 attacking percentage but amassed 18 stuffs as a team, as well as 103 digs. Santa Barbara scooped out 109 balls of its own, but the Vandals gutted out the highly defensive match that lasted two hours and fifteen minutes despite only going four games.
Visiting UCSB (16-7, 12-3 in the Big West) received an amazing 40 digs from junior libero Kristin Nelson, one short of the single-game school record, and three other Gauchos reached double digits in the same category. Freshman outside hitter Janine Sandell was the lone bright spot on the attacking side, earning 16 kills at a .333 clip.
“We were coming from behind all night, and we were in position to win each of the last three games,” Santa Barbara Head Coach Kathy Gregory recalled. “We could have frozen the whole Big West with a win at Idaho.”
The Gauchos righted the ship two nights later, making quick work of the Aggies (15-10, 7-7 in the Big West) in their last regular-season game away from the Thunderdome. UCSB used 10 team blocks and a calculated plan to shut down Utah State’s best attacker, sophomore outside hitter Zuzana Cernianska, holding her to 11 kills but a negligible hitting percentage thanks to 11 errors. Sandell delivered another .333 performance, slamming home 14 kills and seeing significant time in the back row with a season-high five digs. Sophomore middle blocker Megan Blackshire rose to the occasion, spiking 13 balls and blocking five attacks, and senior outside hitter Erica Menzel was one kill shy of her 15th double-double of the year with nine kills and 11 digs.
“Megan beat the block time and time again,” Gregory said. “We made it a priority to get Erica good sets in transition, and [junior setter] Mari [Bell] was able to do that.”
Though the Gauchos made it tougher on themselves by splitting last weekend, they can sew up their second consecutive Big West championship next weekend with wins against third-place Long Beach State and Irvine.