Coming off a tough weekend road trip, the UCSB women’s volleyball team looks to get back on track in the Big West. On Friday night the Gauchos (7-14 overall, 2-7 in the Big West) welcome UC Davis (3-18, 0-9 Big West) to the Thunderdome as they hope to keep the Aggies winless in the conference.
Santa Barbara returns home after a 0-2 weekend trip that saw it fall in a three-game sweep to second-place Long Beach State (13-6, 7-2 Big West), followed by a heartbreaking five-game loss at Cal State Northridge (8-14, 5-5 Big West). Low hitting percentage has plagued the Gauchos lately, as they recorded a .118 mark against the Matadors and hit at a .093 clip in Long Beach.
The Gauchos sport a young team this year, with 12 out of 16 active players being freshmen and sophomores. Young players like sophomore outside hitter Rebecca Saraceno, who currently has the second-most kills with 273 on the season and third-most digs with 213, and freshman middle blocker Kasey Kipp, second in blocks with 78, have each played instrumental roles. Freshman setter Dana Vargas ranks sixth in the conference and leads the team with 924 assists, and all have held increasing responsibilities with so few seniors and juniors. Although the Gauchos are not having their best season, with such a young team Head Coach Kathy Gregory has many reasons for optimism.
“This is a young team that’s not consistent, but they are improving,” Gregory said. “Players like [freshman outside hitter Charlene] DeHoog and Kipp are definitely showing improvement, but it’s hard to judge when you’re not winning. With a tough schedule and lots of close games it’s hard, but there is improvement.”
Friday, both the young and more experienced players need to have an excellent match if they are going to beat conference-newcomer UC Davis in its first ever Big West meeting at the Thunderdome. Despite the fact that UCD has yet to record a win in conference play and was swept in three games on its home court in the squads’ first meeting – a game in which the Gauchos held the Aggies to just a .065 hitting percentage – this game is not expected to be a breeze. Davis’ last three Big West losses all went to the fifth game, pushing CSU Northridge, Fullerton (10-10, 5-4 Big West) and Long Beach State to their limits.
“A lot has changed since we beat Davis,” Gregory said. “First of all, they took Northridge to five and did the same to Long Beach. Secondly, we caught them unwell, and they have key hitters improving. They have lost a lot of heartbreakers, lots of five-game matches. Throw records out for this game.”
Santa Barbara has yet to win at home this season and hope to end its four-game losing streak on Friday. The Gauchos, however, have not lost all confidence in themselves.
“Losing is something new for Santa Barbara, but we feel confident in ourselves and we are definitely due,” junior libero Leigh Stephenson said. “We have had a tough week of practice and we need to keep working hard. There are a bunch of games we know we should have won, but the best thing that we can do is to come into every game confident in our team’s ability.”