The UCSB women’s volleyball team squandered an opportunity to gain ground in the Big West conference race twice this weekend.

UC Irvine escaped with a 30-28, 33-31, 17-30, 24-30, 15-13 victory on Friday while Long Beach State showed why it remains among the conference’s elite, sweeping Santa Barbara 33-31, 30-17, 30-22. The losses drop the Gauchos (13-10 overall, 5-5 in the Big West) to fourth place in the Big West.

The Anteaters (8-14 overall, 3-5 Big West), who had never defeated the Gauchos on the road, started strong Friday, jumping out to an early 6-2 lead in the third game after winning the first two. Santa Barbara rallied after the intermission to win sets three and four despite losing junior middle blocker Brett Quirarte to a sprained ankle in the second game.

“I’ve said since the beginning of the season that we’re one injury from being in huge danger,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “I feel proud about how they battled back from 2-0.”

After dropping its first four conference matches, Irvine has now won four of its last five including Saturday’s win over #19 Cal Poly. Sophomore outside hitter Lauren Kellerman was the offensive star for the Anteaters, totaling 28 kills on the night, while freshman outside hitter McCall Miller helped out with 19 kills.

Senior middle blocker Olivia Waldowski continued her stellar play for the Gauchos, notching 17 kills and hitting .412, while senior outside hitter Jamie Garbisch tallied a team-high 21 kills, but hit just .113.

“We could easily have won both of the first two games, but we couldn’t finish,” Gregory said. “We were out of sync from the very beginning and that set the tone.”

On Saturday Santa Barbara had a chance to steal game one as it was in command of a 26-21 lead, but Long Beach State (17-5 overall, 7-2 Big West) fought hard for the win and never looked back. The victory was the first for the 49ers in the Thunderdome since 1999.

With Quirarte hobbling from Friday’s injury, the UCSB offense struggled to find the seams in the 49er defense; the team hit just .107. Waldowski turned in another strong performance, racking up 12 kills while hitting a match high .579.

“Olivia is simply on a level above everyone else right now,” Gregory said.

Long Beach’s win, coupled with Irvine’s victory over Cal Poly, puts the 49ers just one game away from first place in the Big West. Junior middle blocker Alexis Crimes showed why she is one of the best in the conference, leading her squad with 19 kills. The Beach out-hit the Gauchos .276 to .107.

Santa Barbara had not lost back-to-back games since early September, and with the loss a four-game home winning streak. Despite the losses, the Gauchos still have a chance of advancing to the postseason since the toughest part of the schedule is in the past.

“Our power ranking is still high and I think that if we win all the rest of our league games we should get in,” Gregory said. “I’m just going to try to encourage the team to take it one game at a time because we control own destiny. We just need to beat all the teams that we’ve already beaten.”