This weekend the #19 UCSB women’s volleyball team (17-3 overall, 11-2 in the Big West Conference) will bring its seven-game win streak to the Thunderdome for its final two home matches. Tonight at 7, Idaho comes to town as one of the only two teams that have defeated the Gauchos in league this season.
The game will serve as a rematch of the Oct. 9 five-game marathon loss in Moscow, Idaho. The Vandals (14-8, 6-6 Big West) are currently sitting just outside the NCAA playoff bubble and surely realize how two wins over highly touted UCSB will help their chances when selection time comes.
“Idaho has one of the best middle blockers and team defense in the league,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said.
This statement was proven true the last time these teams met, as the Vandals held UCSB to a minuscule .173 hitting percentage, the Gauchos’ worst showing of the season. However, that game took place at the end of a very tough week for the Gauchos, and since that match the Gauchos have gone undefeated, losing only two games in that seven-match stretch.
On Saturday at 7 p.m., an injury-ridden Utah State (7-13, 3-9 Big West) squad will attempt to rain on UCSB seniors Kristen Nelson, Mari Bell and Amy Sarkaria’s Senior Night celebration. Although Utah State has been playing aggressively against its opponents, injuries have forced some shifts in the lineup, causing a noticeable lack of effectiveness on both offense and defense.
As of now, it looks as if UCSB will not receive a high-enough seed to host any home matches in the NCAA Tournament, effectively meaning that this will be the Gaucho Locos’ last chance to see the 2004 edition of the Gauchos, and the last chance ever to see this year’s seniors in action.
All three have played varied roles on the team, but not one of them has ever been anything but a team player. Nelson went from a walk-on back-row player to earning a scholarship a month into her freshman year to, according to Gregory, becoming “the most dominant defensive player I have ever coached.”
Coming from Gregory, this is saying a whole lot when one considers UCSB’s reputation as the premier school of scrappy defense and how many great players Gregory has seen don kneepads in the hallowed confines of Rob Gym during her 30-year tenure. Bell was key as the setter all year during last year’s Big West Championship run. Sarkaria has come up huge in some key matches this year such as getting the go-ahead block against then-#8 Cal.