Gaucho senior outside hitter Lauren McLaughlin reminded spectators this past weekend why she was selected to the Big West Women’s Volleyball First Team last season.
With 18 kills and 10 digs on Saturday against Cal State Fullerton and 20 kills and 12 digs on Friday against Cal State Northridge, McLaughlin led the Gauchos (6-7 overall) to a 2-0 start in the Big West – their best conference opening since the 2004 season. She also committed only two errors on 54 attempts against Fullerton, giving her a .296 hitting percentage for the match.
“When the games get tight, the setters tend to go to Lauren,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “There are two blockers on her at a time, but she’s physically and mentally ready to handle the pressure. We actually need to distribute the ball [away from her] to give our offense more balance.”
The Gauchos have won three consecutive matches since their five-match losing streak in nonconference play. It took them five sets to win against Northridge on Friday, where the temperature in the gym rose to 95 degrees after a day of sweltering San Fernando Valley heat. Down 9-6 in the fifth set, UCSB came back to win the set and the match 15-12. Sophomore outside hitter Charlene DeHoog posted 12 kills and 12 digs in the match, while fellow sophomore Kasey Kipp tallied 10 kills, nine block assists and two solo blocks.
“Northridge is one of the more difficult places to play,” Gregory said. “[The Matadors] out-hit us but we still found a way to win. Kipp played unbelievably for us.”
By playing eleven players in both Big West matches, the Gauchos demonstrated that they have the flexibility to force opposing teams to adjust to multiple on-court lineups. Saturday’s match against Fullerton gave the team its first four-set match victory of the season. Sophomore setter Dana Vargas had 34 assists and 10 digs on her way to a double-double against the Titans, while senior libero team captain Leigh Stephenson lead all Gauchos with 22 digs.
UCSB is currently tied with Pacific (2-8 overall) and Cal Poly (7-6 overall) in the Big West. Pacific beat Long Beach State (11-3 overall) in three sets over the weekend – a team ranked first in the Big West preseason poll. The Gauchos play Pacific at the Thunderdome on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. It will be their first home match of the season.
“The road is very difficult for teams [in the Big West],” Gregory said. “And we just have to take it one game at a time. We gained confidence [this weekend] and now we know we can close out matches, I have a feeling we’re getting better.”