Many Americans gather in front of the TV on Election Day in small groups to watch their country’s history unfold, but #19 UCSB (17-3, 11-2 in the Big West) threw a huge block party in its three-game victory over the Waves (7-13, 4-5 in the WCC) on Tuesday. The Gauchos racked up 14 team blocks and outlasted pesky Pepperdine, passing to win their seventh straight match 30-22, 30-23, 30-15.
Santa Barbara sophomore middle blocker Olivia Waldowski had a night to remember, spiking 10 balls and blocking 10 more for her first career double-dip. After Waldowski blocked an attack alone in game three, Pepperdine scored four consecutive points to pull behind 20-15, but the Gauchos went on a 10-point run that included two more Waldowski blocks.
“That was really fun and so out-of-character for me,” said Waldowski, whose previous career-high was eight blocks. “We hit balls that wouldn’t go down tonight, though, and it was very frustrating early on.”
The Waves, led by senior libero Christina Hinds’ 27 digs, seemed to be everywhere UCSB hit the ball and actually outdug Santa Barbara 75-70. The Gauchos needed well over 100 swings to take the first two frames and finished the night hitting .211 thanks only to a match-high .368 attacking percentage in the final game.
“They kept our outside [hitters] close to negative and we weren’t adjusting,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “Our blocking was excellent because we knew where to commit, but it was tough to hit the way they were digging.”
The rallies were very long and the Gauchos won many points by tiring the Waves’ offense. Game two saw a 16-16 tie that was due to a combined 19 various errors by both sides, ten by Pepperdine.
Gaucho senior libero Kristin Nelson earned 30 digs, reaching that mark for the third time this season, and freshman outside hitter Bethany Johansen had another strong performance with eight kills and a .300 attacking percentage. Senior Amy Sarkaria got the call to start the match in the middle and made the most of her playing time, amassing five kills and a pair of blocks.
“I was kind of surprised, and I found out during warm-ups,” Sarkaria, who usually sees time in the 6-2 substitution, said. “Of course I hope to start, but coming off the bench is a lot harder because you have to create energy that might not be there.”
Hard-hitting Waves senior outside hitter Kristen Schultz had only eight kills but had 19 digs to help the defense, and junior outside hitter Katy Daly paced Pepperdine with 12 kills.
The Gauchos have dropped just two games on their seven-game win streak and are in top shape heading into their home series against two foes from the north, Idaho on Friday night and Utah State on Saturday.
“The best part about our team right now is that we want to compete,” Gregory said. “We want the winning, but I’m happy to see improvement in areas that we will need in the NCAA [Tournament].”