The weekend begins early for the UCSB women’s volleyball team (15-8 overall, 10-2 in the Big West,) while it looks to close out conference play on the road against Pacific (14-10, 6-4 Big West) tonight and Northridge (4-20, 2-9 Big West) on Saturday.
A win both nights would secure a share of the Big West Title for the Gauchos in their fourth consecutive year.
“I’m most proud of us handling all the pressure,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “Although, more of it’s on me because I’m used to winning, but there’s also lots of pressure on the team – no one wants the stigma of being first team not to go to NCAA [playoffs] … But it rings true that we’re only as good as our last game, so we need to come out prepared for that last game.”
On Monday, senior middle blocker Megan Blackshire was named the Macy’s/ucsbgauchos.com “Athlete of the Week” after recording 11 kills in 19 attempts in the sweep against Fullerton. Her Friday night performance against Riverside shimmered with 14 kills, three digs and five blocks. Blackshire’s total hitting percentage on the weekend soared at .590, averaging 4.17 kills per game.
Santa Barbara, coming off its best offensive and defensive displays of the year, looks to bring that momentum on the road. Pacific leads the all-time series against UCSB 44-20 and fell last weekend 3-2 to second place Long Beach.
Northridge, a team composed primarily of freshman, is coming off of two losses last weekend.
If the Gauchos can keep playing at the level of competition demonstrated last weekend, they should have a fairly smooth road ahead. Over the past 12 games, Santa Barbara is 11-1.
“I’m very happy with our improvement and solving some of the problems we had early in the season,” Gregory said. “We needed to be more consistent now that we have two games that really count. … If we can end the season with title, that’d be an accomplishment after going 4-7 [in preseason], but we’re … like 80 percent into the NCAA [playoffs] and we need those two wins to finish and get back those lost games with consistent play.”
In a close second behind UCSB lurks Long Beach (19-5, 8-2 Big West) with the same amount of losses as the Gauchos, but having played two less games. After this weekend, the 49ers have one more weekend of conference play. The Gauchos must win both games this weekend to secure at least a share of the first-place winnings. If the 49ers lose only one game in their next four, Santa Barbara will be the lone leader in the Big West.
Tonight’s first serve is scheduled for 7 in Stockton.