As it turns out, Barack Obama’s presidential victory last week failed to provide change the women’s volleyball team could believe in. UCSB was swept 25-23, 25-14, 25-22 on Friday at the Thunderdome against Big West-leader and long-time division rival Long Beach State.
The loss gives the Gauchos (10-13 overall) a 6-6 record in the Big West, putting them in sixth place in the conference. The 49ers, who have now beaten the Gauchos twice this season, followed their victory at the Thunderdome with a five-set win over Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo on Nov. 7, dropping the Mustangs to 8-4 and third place in the Big West. UC Irvine, riding a five-match winning streak, improved to 9-3 in the conference – only a game behind the first-place 49ers. Friday’s loss all but guarantees that the Gauchos will miss the postseason for the second consecutive year.
“We’d have to be in the top three,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “The postseason will only happen if everything falls into place. Our focus right now is [on finding] the fire to fight for each game and each set.”
In the first set, the Gauchos began with a 3-0 lead that climaxed at 10-6 when senior outside hitter Lauren McLaughlin hit one of her team-leading 13 kills directly off a 49er return. Long Beach tied the score at 12 and took the lead at 12-13. With the score at 15-18 in Long Beach’s favor, the Gauchos went on a 7-1 run to make the score 22-19. Long Beach went on a 5-0 run of its own before McLaughlin hit a huge kill to make the score 23-24. However, her effort was not enough to counter the 49er comeback, and Long Beach prevailed 25-23 in a set that witnessed nine tie scores and five lead changes.
“We just can’t finish,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “We were very predictable. Our middle blockers aren’t getting enough kills because of the passing, and it was easy for Long Beach to read our plays.”
The Gauchos never led in the second set, but the third was just as close as the first, with four lead changes and seven ties. Up 20-19 after a long rally ended with a soft shot in the gap of the Long Beach defense, a miscommunication between middle blockers at the net tied the score and an error by freshman outside hitter Nikki Doyle put the 49ers ahead 21-20. In her first start of the season, Doyle hit a .263 clip, with eight kills and three errors on 19 attempts. The 49ers closed out the set and the match 25-22.
“We played horribly in the second set,” Gregory said. “But Nikki was the bright spot in the match. She’ll start again.”
Sophomore setter Dana Vargas had 27 assists on a .200 clip for the Gauchos. Sophomore outside hitter Charlene DeHoog, who is second in kills behind McLaughlin, contributed six kills and seven digs. Senior libero and team captain Leigh Stephenson led all players with 25 digs.
UCSB will continue their homestand against Cal Poly on Nov. 13 and UC Irvine on Nov. 15. Cal Poly swept the Gauchos in their last meeting in San Luis Obispo.