#16 UCSB (23-3, 16-2 in the Big West) found out Sunday that it is possible for there to be too many parties in Isla Vista.Despite drawing a 13 seed in the 2004 NCAA Tournament and playing as the high card in the first two rounds, the Gauchos will again make a cross-country trek to compete in the postseason due to the men’s and women’s basketball homestands scheduled for this weekend.
Atlanta beckons Santa Barbara this season, and the Gauchos are paired with three teams from the peach state in first round opponent Alabama A&M, Georgia and 27th-ranked Georgia Tech. UCSB squares off against AAMU at 4 p.m. PST[ on Friday afternoon and, if victorious, will meet the winner of the UGA-GT clash Saturday morning at 11 a.m. PST.
“The seed is fine, and we’re on the road but it’s a better draw,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said, noting that AAMU has hardly sniffed the rankings. “We’ve usually played a team that’s in the top 20.”
The Lady Dogs (22-5, 8-0 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) are on a nine-game tear, and only a loss to Grambling State last month kept them from reeling off 18 consecutive victories. SWAC Player of the Year and senior outside hitter Phylis Hetie leads AAMU with over five kills per game, and the Dogs can put up a competent block against the Gauchos, calling on senior middle Megan Chatman for more than one block per game while averaging more than two as a team.
The Thanksgiving break did nothing to harm the Gauchos’ 13-match winning streak, but Georgia Tech’s skein of 21 was interrupted by an upset loss to Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. GT still managed to finish 25-6 and a perfect 16-0 in the ACC and will look to start a new run against UCSB if everything pans out for both teams in the first round.
“Georgia Tech is a pretty good team, equivalent to a good Long Beach or Irvine team,” Gregory said. “We didn’t play at Thanksgiving and so we’re ready. We’re more mature, and we have more players that have been here before.”
The Gauchos find themselves in the same region as fourth-seeded Minnesota and fellow top-16ers Ohio State and Tennessee. The regional playoffs look to pit Santa Barbara against Minnesota in Minneapolis, where UCSB lost in the first round of the 2003 tourney. Five other Big West teams join the Gauchos in the 2004 bracket, most notably Long Beach State and Pacific, who drew Utah and California, respectively.
Losing out on a home bid due to the three basketball games in town this weekend did not come as a shock to the volleyball team, and the pairings favor the Gauchos so strongly that they are able to forgive the athletic department for overlooking them.
“We were informed ahead of time, so we weren’t too surprised,” senior setter Mari Bell said. “We’re not too incredibly excited that we have to travel, but I think we’re in good position to go deep into the tournament.”