When the UCSB women’s volleyball team split the 2005 Big West Conference title rights with rival Long Beach State, both teams knew that a share of the glory could not possibly last long into the 2006 season. The uphill battle kick-started this past weekend when Santa Barbara traveled south to face Long Beach on Friday and Irvine on Saturday.

Against the co-conference champs, the Gauchos came out with a quick 30-19 set victory, but in five full sets fell to the 49ers (10-4 overall, 1-1 in the Big West) 26-30, 27-30, 30-23 and 12-15.

The heartbreaking tumble would have kept down a less driven squad, especially on the road, but UCSB (8-7, 1-2 Big West) would not let its woes continue in Irvine the next night, topping the Anteaters in a second full five-set battle 30-32, 30-27, 27-30, 30-22 and 15-4.

“We had to play a very heartbreaking game against a team we could have beaten, so on Saturday night we were still suffering the effects of that loss,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “By the middle of the fourth [set] we still had the right mind-set, playing aggressively, and were able to dominate in the fourth and fifth sets. That is the kind of attitude this team needs to win.”

One potent reminder of the 2005 co-conference championship squad returned in full force when the Gauchos collectively posted a .630 attack percentage in the first set to open the match against Long Beach – the team’s highest hitting clip up until Saturday.

Individually, three Gauchos hit over .300 for Santa Barbara, a mark which Gregory in the past has expressed every player hit each night out. Outside hitters senior Olivia Waldowski and freshman Rebecca Saraceno each notched .357 and .321, respectively, while junior middle blocker Brett Quirarte pounded the highest hitting clip for UCSB at .385.

“We’re still becoming a team and finding our identity this year,” Gregory said. “We play a very tough schedule, but to almost beat Long Beach means that we’re out there fighting a good tough match.”

To end the weekend, Santa Barbara absolutely dominated the final two sets of the match, out-hitting the Anteaters .283 and .692 to .000 and .059 respectively, as Irvine (4-11, 0-2 Big West) committed 10 attack errors en route to its eight-point defeat in the fourth set.

With the score knotted at 12 in the fourth set of the night, senior outside hitter Jamie Garbisch slammed a putaway to give the Gauchos a lead that they held until the end of the set. At set point, Garbisch worked her magic again with yet another kill to give UCSB its second victory of the night with a score of 30-22.

In the final set of the weekend, UCSB connected with its highest single-game hitting percentage of the season, with nine kills in 13 attempts and no errors. Garbisch again dominated with four kills for the Gauchos to take the match and walk away with an even .500 mark in the weekend series.

“We have to play through [being short a number of players] and need to be prepared to come out and play five sets,” Gregory said. “We’re improving after every match … and we could have easily quit, but didn’t. We still have lots of areas we can improve in … but in this league, everyone has the potential to beat everyone.”

Epitomizing UCSB’s stellar hitting percentage in that frame, Waldowski connected with 16 kills for a team-high .483 hitting clip.

Not far behind was Garbisch who notched 26 putaways on the night, the highest total out of both teams. Garbisch was also one of two Gauchos to record a double-double, with 10 digs in addition to her kill spree.

“Jamie Garbisch was unbelievable against Irvine,” Gregory said. “She was absolutely unstoppable in the fourth and fifth games, and Olivia Waldowski was also unstoppable on the floor. When we’re all playing together, every team on their home court is going to be a great team, but in individual matchups we need to be ready to play and accept the challenge.”

Freshman setter Stephanie Brandt answered with her second double-double of the road trip, connecting for 61 assists – the most on the night for either team – and 11 digs.

This weekend, UCSB returns to the Thunderdome to face Cal State Fullerton on Friday and UC Riverside the following night.