Not even the #2 Big West team could knock Santa Barbara off its tracks.
The UCSB women’s volleyball team swept Northridge with scores of 32-30, 30-28, 30-22 on Thursday in Northridge.
“It was pretty much a must-win for us,” junior middle blocker Megan Blackshire said.
The Gauchos (15-3 overall, 10-2 in the Big West) went into the match with just a one-win lead over the Matadors in the Big West standings. With the win, #20 UCSB widened the gap between itself and its next most winningest opponent.
Leading the Gaucho offense were sophomore outside hitter Janine Sandell and Blackshire, who each contributed 12 kills, and sophomore middle blocker Olivia Waldowski who recorded 11 kills. All three players have consistently turned out high numbers in kills throughout the season and continue to prove that Santa Barbara’s offense is a force to be reckoned with.
“I think that we all have our roles,” Blackshire said. “And that’s what I’m there for – to get us kills.”
Offensively, Northridge (13-7, 8-4) remained fairly close to Santa Barbara in hitting percentages in each of the three games, but senior outside hitter Jen Ryan performed above par for the Matadors, recoding a match-high 18 kills. However, the Gaucho defense was able to keep Northridge to a collective .218 clip.
Senior libero Kristin Nelson once again led UCSB’s defense from the back row with 19 digs. At the net, freshman opposite Bethany Johansen, sophomore outside hitter Jamie Garbisch, Waldowski and Sandell each contributed solo blocks to raise a curtain on the Matador offense.
“Everyone contributed tonight,” Blackshire said. “That’s the most important thing for us going into the tournament.”
Before the Big West or NCAA Tournaments, Santa Barbara will encounter Pacific at the Alex G. Spanos Center in Stockton on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Tigers handed UCSB its first conference loss of the season, sweeping the Gauchos at home Oct. 1.
Prior to Thursday’s Gaucho-Matador matchup, Pacific was tied with Northridge for second place in the Big West. A win at home could move the Tigers up in the league and threaten Santa Barbara’s chance at a third consecutive conference title.
Junior outside hitter Ashley Groothuis will be Pacific’s go-to player. Groothuis is averaging 4.46 kills per game and, at 6’1″, is a major presence on the left side.
The Tigers defeated Cal Poly, sweeping the Mustangs 3-0 in a slow match in Stockton. Neither Santa Barbara nor Pacific dominated their respective matches Thursday, leaving Saturday’s match an open book.