After two difficult losses on the home court last weekend, the UCSB women’s volleyball team hopes to turn things around this weekend on the road.
The Gauchos (13-10 overall, 5-5 in the Big West) travel to face UC Riverside (2-20 overall, 0-9 Big West) tonight and will continue on the road to square off against Cal State Fullerton (15-8 overall, 4-5 Big West) on Saturday. Santa Barbara swept both opponents in its first meeting this season and has done remarkably well historically against all four of their remaining conference foes. With the hope of a Big West Championship nearly out of the picture, UCSB has little room for error for the rest of the season.
“With every loss you learn something about yourself, and we’ve been working on getting better on the outside,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “We know what we have to do, and we control our own destiny and take one game at a time because there is a sense of urgency.”
To say that the Highlanders have struggled this year would be an understatement. Both of Riverside’s wins have come in full five-set matches and the squad has not picked up a victory in more than a month. The squad has been swept in 14 of its 22 contests this season.
Cal State Fullerton kicked off the year on fire, winning 12 of its first 13 matches, but it seems its best volleyball is behind the team. The Titans have lost seven of nine, but are coming off a victory over Pacific.
Junior middle blocker Brett Quirarte’s sprained ankle, which occurred in game two against UC Irvine last weekend, played a huge role in the team’s losses to the Anteaters and Long Beach State, as one of UCSB’s biggest weaknesses is its depth. Despite not being at 100 percent, Quirarte will make the road trip with the team and is expected to contribute.
“Brett knows how big every game is and how important these matches are, so she will be ready to play,” Gregory said.
Without the stellar play of senior middle blocker Olivia Waldowski, the Gauchos would undoubtedly stand even lower than their current fourth-place standing. The Irvine native leads the conference in hitting percentage as she has done all season long, and ranks 25th nationally. She is also second on the team with 3.35 kills per game.
“[Waldowski] is everything you want in a senior,” Gregory said. “She plays at a high level all the time, nothing bothers her; she is mentally and physically strong and she’s going to continue to do that because she loves this game. We’d be nowhere without her.”
One reason for Santa Barbara’s recent offensive struggles has been the increase in its number of attack errors. Against the Anteaters last weekend, the squad hit under .200, and against the Beach the Gauchos tallied 24 errors while mustering a .107 hitting percentage.
“It’s a game of errors, and our offensive errors on the outside are hurting us,” Gregory said. “We can’t miss serves when the game gets in the 20s.”
Santa Barbara has never failed to advance to the NCAA Tournament, and these next few weeks will dictate whether or not that record is to continue.