Throughout the history of the UCSB women’s volleyball program, Head Coach Kathy Gregory’s squad has only been the outright Big West Conference champion one time, which occurred last year.
The Gauchos are in position to accomplish this feat for the second year in a row Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Thunderdome. In UCSB’s last Big West match of the year, central coast rival Cal Poly is the only obstacle standing in the way of a second consecutive title.
Santa Barbara enters the match ranked #19 in the country at18-7 overall, 14-3 in conference, and standing a game in front of second-place Northridge in the Big West. Regardless of the result of Saturday’s game, UCSB is assured of at least a co-championship. A Northridge loss in either of its last two Big West matches assures the Gauchos an outright title.
Cal Poly enters the match 12-16 overall and 4-13 in the Big West. A year after qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, Cal Poly stands in eighth place in conference and is currently in the midst of a six-game losing streak.
In their previous matchup this year in Cal Poly, the Gauchos defeated the Mustangs 30-28, 25-30,30-26, 30-22. The match was the first of the league schedule.
“We have improved a great deal since that first match,” UCSB asAssociate Head Coach Liz Towne-Gilbert said. “We have a great mix of some old and young talent, and now that we are finding our chemistry, I have nothing but high expectations,” she continued said.
Senior outside hitter and four-year starter Erica Menzel now ranks in the top 10 all-time in both kills and digs for UCSB. The 2002 First Team All-Big West performer is averaging 3.66 kills per game, and has18 kill/dig double-doubles on the year.
“We are really excited about going for our second straight Big West title. It is pretty crazy that we are the first team to have a chance to do it,” Menzel said. “We are not going to be satisfied with just winning league, though. My freshman year, we made it to the Elite Eight, and I am really eager to go further this year,” she said.
Sophomore middle blocker Megan Blackshire has come through in a big way with the kind of year that was to be expected from the 2002 Co-Big West Freshman of the Year. She is currently hitting .352 on the year and leads the team in blocking with 1.02 a game.
Freshmen Olivia Waldowski and Janine Sandell have also been carrying a healthy share of the offensive load and are considered to be the top two contenders for Big West Freshmen of the Year award. Olivia Waldowski currently leads the league in hitting percentage at .388 and leads the team with .36 aces per game. Janine has stepped up this year with 11 double-digit kill performances as the teams other starting outside hitter.
With the last home match of the year against Pac-10 opponent Arizona falling on Thanksgiving weekend, Saturday’s match is, for all practical purposes, senior night for Menzel and senior middle blocker Francina Edmonds.