This weekend was a study in contrasts for the UCSB women’s volleyball team (7-8 overall).
In Friday night’s season opener at the Thunderdome against Big West foe Pacific, Gaucho sophomore outside hitter Charlene DeHoog had a career high 22 kills with a .362 hitting percentage in a match that lasted nearly three hours and had 14 lead changes. However, UCSB lost 25-23, 20-25, 25-21, 23-25, 13-15. After a 3-1 run in the fifth set to make the score 13-14, junior outside hitter Chelsea Pavlick missed her serve, ending the set and the match.
“[The match] was a heartbreaker,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said.
On Saturday night against UC Davis (8-9 overall), the Gauchos combined for an efficient .318 on their way to a 25-16, 26-24, 25-11 sweep. At 23-11 in the third set, Pavlick hit another serve at the net, but the ball’s topspin forced it over into a gap in the Aggie defense – a tribute to a night in which nearly everything went right for the Gauchos.
“We had the fire in our bellies,” freshmen middle blocker Lily Lopez said. “We should’ve won last night – we wanted to attack [UC Davis] hard.”
According to senior outside hitter Lauren McLaughlin, the Gauchos felt they were evenly matched with the Tigers on Friday. They had 65 kills to the Tigers’ 59, 62 assists to the Tigers’ 54, and a .173 hitting percentage compared to the Tigers’ .172.
“We played well,” Gregory said. “But we couldn’t finish it off.”
With the score 19-20 in the fourth set and the Gauchos up 2-1, a long rally ended with a Pacific miss to make the score 20-20. With the momentum in UCSB’s favor, the Tigers still scored three straight to put them ahead 20-23. Then McLaughlin had two kills and junior outside hitter Rebecca Saraceno aced a serve to tie the score at 23. Two missed blocks by the Gauchos ended the set at 23-25. There were six lead changes in the fourth set alone.
“We have to learn to focus on closing,” sophomore middle blocker Kasey Kipp said. “We need to figure out how to come together [at the end of matches].”
On Saturday, the Gauchos breezed through the first set. In the second set, Davis jumped out quickly with a 2-6 lead. At 21-24, having never held a lead in the set, UCSB scored five straight to win 26-24. The Aggies were never able to recover.
“We had a lot of aggression and regret that [carried over] from our loss to Pacific that we took into this match,” team captain and senior libero Leigh Stephenson said.
The Gauchos are now 3-1 in Big West play. They are tied for second with Pacific (3-9 overall) behind #24 Cal Poly (9-6 overall), who swept the Tigers on Saturday and are the only Big West team undefeated in the conference.
“We’re in a good position now,” McLaughlin said. “Every win we get from now on takes more pressure off of us.”
McLaughlin contributed 20 kills in Friday’s loss and 10 on Saturday. She and DeHoog lead the team with 170 and 174 kills, respectively. With 11 kills on 14 attempts and no errors against the Aggies, DeHoog hit a team-leading .786 on Saturday night. Sophomore middle blocker Kipp hit seven kills on 11 attempts for a .636 hitting percentage.
Stephenson had 24 digs in the two matches. She leads the team with 221 on the season.
The Gauchos begin a three-game road trip with a match at Long Beach State on Saturday. The 49ers were swept by Pacific a week ago in Stockton. Saturday’s match is set to start at 7 p.m. at the Long Beach Pyramid.