Though rebounds have no place in the sport of volleyball, #13 UCSB (10-2 overall, 5-1 in the Big West) bounced back from a disappointing 1-2 homestand to slam Utah State (3-10 overall, 0-6 in the Big West) 30-24, 30-23, 30-25 Thursday night in Logan. The Gauchos earned their eighth sweep of the season and maintained their position atop the conference standings by digging, blocking and hitting better than the hapless Aggies.
“We had a long talk before the game about what we needed to do and improving in certain areas,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “Our offense is OK, and we need to improve our blocking and defense.”
The offense has hit well above .300 in back-to-back matches, better than its season average, and the Gauchos cut their receiving errors in half Thursday. Due to the sometimes arbitrary nature of volleyball scoring, Gregory said she felt that Santa Barbara collected more than the seven team blocks it was awarded.
Sophomore middle blocker Olivia Waldowski amassed 11 kills and junior middle blocker Megan Blackshire and freshman outside hitter Bethany Johansen contributed 10 kills each to lead the Gaucho attack. The three tall players took advantage of the absence of USU junior middle blocker Erin Graybill and enjoyed an easier path down the middle of the court.
“They weren’t at full strength in the middle, so that’s where we attacked,” Gregory said.
Solid senior libero Kristin Nelson notched 14 digs despite nursing a sore hamstring, marking the 11th time this season that she has made 10 or more scoops. Senior Mari Bell and freshman Ashley Dutro again split time as setters, with Dutro spelling Bell for the final two frames and dishing off 28 assists.
“I let Dutro get in there to keep up her experience,” Gregory said. “She set well and had good rhythm.”
UCSB could not stop Aggie standout junior opposite Zuzana Cernianska who tallied a match-high 20 kills and hit an efficient .310 with a pair of block solos. The only other bright spot about the sound defeat for the Aggies was sophomore libero Kelsi Thoman’s team-best 16 digs.
Santa Barbara was still smarting from its four-game loss to LMU on Tuesday that witnessed two five-point leads dissolve late in two of the frames, and Gregory was pleased with the Gauchos’ effort against USU for the most part.
“As far as not giving away the game, we were better tonight,” Gregory said. “But I’m still not satisfied.”
The Gauchos will continue to Historic Memorial Gym in Idaho, a place where history was unkind to them last season in a four-game loss to the Vandals. Junior outside hitter Kati Tikker paced Idaho (9-5, 3-3) with 15 kills in its sweep of Cal Poly on Thursday night.