Entering her 30th year as the UCSB women’s head volleyball coach, the traditionally “in your face”-style coach Kathy Gregory had self-admittedly lightened up a bit. Following the Gaucho’s 10-0 start and climb to a #8 national ranking, the new, mellower Gregory seemed to have things under control entering Big West league play.
However, after three losses to unranked opponents and jeopardizing Santa Barbara’s chances for a third straight league crown, this years year’s squad was about to get its first taste of vintage “in your face” Gregory.
Like any good leader, Gregory did not point any fingers or make excuses for the Gauchos’ minor collapse; she just put it on herself to make a change, and change she did. Starting with double practices all week, starting at 6:30 a.m., Gregory emphasized offensive aggressiveness, something that has been lacking at times for the Gauchos this season.
This weekend against Irvine and Long Beach, the Gauchos (12-3 overall, 7-2 in the Big West) responded in a big way to the challenge posed by their coach and came up with two big wins, sweeping Irvine in three: 30-28, 30-21, 30-26. In the always hard-fought Battle of the Beach, they convincingly handled Long Beach 30-28, 27-30, 30-24, 30-21, holding the 49er hitters to just a .145 clip for the match.
“The theme of the week was, ‘Attack, attack, attack!'” Gregory said. “I was very pleased and proud of how we came out and took control of our game against two quality opponents.”
For two young players in particular, their first experience with the “old-school Gregory” style may have been just what they needed, as freshman setter Ashley Dutro and sophomore outside hitter Jamie Garbisch had breakout performances this weekend, making strong cases for consideration as permanent starters.
“We really wanted to take advantage of the extra practice time to improve and show Kathy that we want to be out on the court,” Dutro said.
Both Dutro and Garbisch in their own way embodied the Gaucho’s new aggressive philosophy. Garbish brought the heat with her jump-serve and hitting, while the 5’7″ Dutro played like a six-footer, putting down nearly every joust at the net against much taller girls, and using her athleticism to get to every ball to put up a good set.
On Friday, the Gauchos battled a little in game one with the Anteaters before pulling away after a 22-22 tie. Irvine only held the lead for one other point in the match. A well-balanced offense led by Dutro produced three players with double-digit kills – Garbisch had nine.
Saturday’s contest with Long Beach was the fifth victory in a row over the hated 49ers. In games one and three, the Gauchos built a big lead and were able to fend off a late 49er run to close out the frames. In game four, Long Beach rallied to pull within two points at 22-20 before back-to-back kills from sophomores outside hitter Janine Sandell and middle blocker Olivia Waldowski pushed the lead back up and the Gauchos over the top, as they only allowed the 49ers one more point in the match.
Santa Barbara’s big three of Sandell, Waldowski, and junior middle blocker Megan Blackshire all tallied up double-digit kills for the second night with 18, 13 and 15 respectively, while Garbisch had 9.
UCSB is tied atop the Big West with Northridge and Pacific.