Tryptophan had no adverse effects on the UCSB women’s volleyball team this past weekend, as the Gauchos ended their season at the Baden Thanksgiving Classic in Long Beach.
In the tournament, Santa Barbara (14-18 overall, 6-10 in the Big West) faced three nonconference opponents, with each game taking place at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid.
“The competition was outstanding,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “Every team brought a challenge.”
On Friday, the Gauchos took down Temple University in four games, 25-30, 30-24, 30-26, 30-22, in the opening match of the tournament. It was UCSB’s first ever meeting with Temple (16-20), a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference. The Gauchos were able to recover from a game one defeat by responding with three straight victories against the Owls.
Led by junior outside hitter Lauren McLaughlin who recorded a team high 19 kills and 11 digs, the Gauchos were able to overcome Temple and their trio of former Chinese Junior National team members. Temple’s sophomore outside hitter Yun Yi Zhang, a Shanghai native, led the match with 21 kills. Sophomore outside hitter Rebecca Saraceno contributed three service aces and 16 kills while hitting at a .464 clip for the Gauchos, who as a team hit for an efficient .322 average.
On Saturday afternoon, Santa Barbara faced another first-time opponent when it squared off with the Ivy Leaguers of Yale University (16-10). Despite being out hit by the Bulldogs .234 to .173 and being down two games to one, the Gauchos managed to fight back in dramatic fashion, winning the match in five games 30-20, 25-30, 20-30, 30-28, 15-13.
Down two games to one and trailing 22-18 in game four, the Gauchos went on a 7-3 run that tied the game at 25 apiece. The Gauchos were able to pull away late and, with a kill by Lauren McLaughlin kill, sealed the victory 30-28, forcing a decisive game five. In game five’s race to 15, which included six tied scores and three lead changes, a kill by freshman Stacey Schmidt sparked a 4-0 run that solidified the come-from-behind victory for the Gauchos. McLaughlin once again led UCSB with 19 kills and senior Brett Quirarte notched six block assists on the night.
History was made during the two schools’ first ever meeting, as junior libero Leigh Stephenson broke Emily Hendrickson’s school record for digs in a season. Stephenson recorded 28 kills in the match and tacked on 12 more in the final game of the tournament to bring her season dig total to 650, passing Hendrickson who set the record of 613 digs just a season ago. The Nipomo, Calif. native’s record-setting season has been a bright spot in a down year for the Gauchos.
“I was really surprised that I broke the record,” Stephenson said. “There have been a lot of really good liberos at this school before me. Although it was upsetting to not go to the [NCAA] Tournament, I feel that this accomplishment, as well as our team’s accomplishments, are setting us up for a great future.”
Just two hours later UCSB played its final match of the season against Pittsburgh (15-16). The Gauchos played one of their best games of the season, dominating the Panthers on both offense and defense. UCSB out hit the Panthers .353 to .161 and out-dug its foes 47-40 en-route to a 30-20, 30-16, 30-25 three-game sweep. Freshman setter Dana Vargas dealt out 48 assists in the match, helping Quirarte to knock in 10 kills in her final game as a Gaucho.
There will be no 27th consecutive NCAA appearance for the UCSB women’s volleyball program, as the Gauchos finished up what has been a re-building season.
“This year we definitely matured as a team,” Gregory said. “We were the only team in the country that played this many freshman. They have the skills and I think that they now realize the commitment needed. This team finally played up to their potential and will continue to improve each day.”