Records fell and intense drama played itself out in Long Beach and Irvine in a pair of four-game UCSB wins last weekend, but the impending NCAA Tournament and the state of the team remain the most important thing for the #18 Gauchos (21-3 overall, 15-2 in the Big West).
Santa Barbara dropped the first game in each match, but prevailed over the 49ers (19-5, 11-5 Big West) on Friday 27-30, 30-27, 30-22, 30-25, and defeated Irvine (17-8, 10-5 Big West) on Saturday 19-30, 30-24, 30-28, 33-31. The two matches marked the first time this season that the Gauchos lost game one and won the match, which speaks to the quality of their late-match play, but also to the readiness of their opponents at the beginning of matches.
“Irvine was ready to play; they served aggressively, and we weren’t in position,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “Long Beach’s rhythm was quicker and they looked faster than we did, and we only got it once we started grinding away.”
Three double-hit calls plagued the Gauchos in the first frame against the 49ers, and an 11-point spurt by Irvine was their downfall in the opening game the next night. UCSB fell behind 10-6 in game two of both matches and prompted time-outs each time, and it responded with five straight points in the Long Beach match. [[UCSB fell behind 10-6 in game two of both matches, prompting timeouts each time; in the Long Beach match, the Gauchos subsequently responded with five straight points.]]
Led by sophomore outside hitter Janine Sandell’s 21 kills, the Gauchos erased all doubt as to who was in charge in the last two games on Friday, thanks also to their 11 team blocks after game one. Sandell notched a double-double with 15 digs, but senior libero Kristin Nelson trumped her with 35 digs, leaving her just three shy of the all-time Gaucho record.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we were more consistent than Long Beach,” said Gregory, noting the 49ers’ unsightly .148 attacking percentage that included a negative game three. “It was a game of errors, but the two teams played great defense and our block was a factor.”
Long Beach freshman middle blocker Alexis Crimes had 18 kills to lead her team, and three other 49ers reached at least 10 kills. Senior outside hitter Kelly Wing starred for the Anteaters the following night with 27 put-aways and 21 digs on Irvine’s Senior Night, but it was not enough to counter double-dips by Sandell and sophomore outside hitter Jamie Garbisch.
“With Jamie, you know what you’re going to get every night,” Gregory said. “Janine was getting a lot of our kills and put up a big block for us in game four.”
Sandell’s stuff made the score 32-31, and sophomore middle blocker Olivia Waldowski uncorked a service ace to seal the 11th straight match for Santa Barbara from Irvine. Nelson shone again, eclipsing Roberta Gehlke’s career mark of 1619 digs with 34 of her own for her fourth 30-scoop effort in the past five games. Nelson has averaged over nine kills per game during that span and has upped her season total to an even 500.
“No one else is allowed to take balls over the net if Kristin can get to them,” Gregory said. “I’ve told her that a lot, but more this year than ever.”
The Gauchos turn their attention to struggling Cal Poly (5-21, 3-14 Big West) on Thursday night and a non-conference match against Davis on Sunday afternoon.