Over the weekend the UCSB women’s volleyball team took down league opponents Long Beach State and UC Irvine and in doing so secured at least a share of their second consecutive Big West title.
On Friday ,the Gauchos defeated Long Beach by taking only three games to sweep the victory 30-24, 30-22, 31-29. It is the first time since 1987 that the Gauchos have sent Long Beach packing in three straight games. A season-high crowd of 1,015 was there to see a focused Gaucho team take care of business.
“We are very motivated to win the Big West title,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “Playing Long Beach in one of the final league games only added to our fire. We always like to beat Long Beach.”
After falling to the Gauchos in games one and two, Long Beach must have received some inspiring words from coach Brian Gimmillaro during the break, because in game three the match began to look like the heated rivalry it has been for over 30 years.
Sloppy play by the Gauchos as well as some timely 49er blocking led to a 27-23 Long Beach lead. However, the Gauchos stormed back as an ace by freshman middle blocker Olivia Waldowski tied the match at 28. Long Beach was then able to sideout. On game point for Long Beach, senior outside hitter Erica Menzel came up with an authoritative kill to tie it back up at 29. With the crowd on their feet, freshman Emily Hendrickson calmly went back to the line and served up two tough floaters that Long Beach was unable to even get back over the net.
After the game Hendrickson explained how she kept her poise in the high-pressure situation during just her first season.
“Kathy is a real tough coach, we are a real tough team, and we have really tough competitive practices. I think that the nature of our practice has taught me not to back down. When I got back there to serve, I wasn’t thinking about anything except not letting up on these serves,” Hendrickson said.
Coach Gregory was very pleased with the result of the match as well as the late play of her team.
“Long Beach made some adjustments and came out firing in the third game. I was really proud of how we scrambled for balls and were able to come back from a deficit that large, that late in the game,” Gregory said.
With the win, UCSB has now defeated Long Beach four times in a row as well as six of the last eight meetings.
On Saturday against Irvine, the Gauchos came out flat after the emotional win on Friday and dropped game one 28-30. After that, UCSB tightened up the screws and Irvine presented little threat throughout the next three games as Santa Barbara handled them 30-22, 30-36, and 30-16 one point away from a rally score bagel.
In the fourth game the Gauchos were leading 17-14 as junior setter Mari Bell brought out her signature “lefty jumper” and served up 10 straight points in a row.
During the match, Mari claimed 53 assists, 2 aces and 7 kills. Freshman outside hitter Janine Sandell led all players with 19 kills, followed by sophomore middle blocker Megan Blackshire with 16 and Menzel with 12. In the battle of the best liberos in the league, junior Kristin Nelson bested Irvine’s Brenda Waterman in digs 28-26.
The Gauchos’ final league game will be in the Thunderdome next Saturday at 7 p.m. against Cal Poly as they attempt to wrap up the Big West title