The UCSB women’s volleyball team (10-15 overall) lost their third and fourth straight matches on Thursday against rival Cal Poly and on Saturday against UC Irvine.
Irvine (15-10 overall) and Cal Poly (15-12 overall) are tied for second place in the conference behind 12-2 Long Beach State (23-4 overall). With only two matches left before the NCAA Tournament begins on Dec. 4, the Gauchos’ 6-8 conference record virtually guarantees they will finish the season sixth in the Big West.
The Gauchos managed to pull off the second set against both Cal Poly and Irvine, but lost in four in each match. Against Cal Poly, the Gauchos’ 28-26 second set win witnessed six tie scores and four lead changes, ending on a kill by senior outside hitter Lauren McLaughlin. McLaughlin had 19 kills in both matches last week.
“We had all the momentum,” McLaughlin said. “I thought we were gonna crush them in the third set.”
However, Cal Poly outside hitter Ali Waller’s 23 kills and the freakish athleticism of sophomore middle blocker Dominique Olowolafe proved too much for the Gauchos to overcome in the 25-15, 26-28, 25-21, 25-19 loss. Statistically, Olowolafe was not spectacular, hitting nine kills and five errors on a .148 clip. However, her leaping ability is cause for concern for a young Gaucho team in seasons to come.
“She will be a first team All-American,” Cal Poly Head Coach Jon Stevenson said. “She has that kind of ability. You can’t learn to jump that high.”
Gaucho sophomore Dana Vargas hit 51 assists and seven digs in the match. Senior libero and team captain Leigh Stephenson had 20 digs, while junior outside hitter Rebecca Saraceno contributed 10 kills and 16 digs in spite of coming off of the bench.
In the 25-16, 19-25, 25-22, 25-17 loss to UC Irvine, the Anteaters out-hit the Gauchos .234 to .172. McLaughlin and Saraceno were the only Gauchos to hit double digits in kills, while Stephenson led all players with 23 digs.
“The match against Irvine was winnable,” Gaucho Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “We played scared. We’re not getting beaten because the talent is so much better, but we aren’t mentally tough when it counts. We’re not starting strong and not taking advantage of the home court.”
Junior outside hitter Lindsay Fletcher will replace sophomore Charlene DeHoog in the starting lineup for the next match against Irvine on Nov. 22. Sophomore outside hitter Nikki Doyle will start again for Saraceno, who hit .062 against the Anteaters in Irvine. The Gauchos play their last game of the season at the Thunderdome against UC Riverside on Nov. 22
“We’re still going to have a positive attitude,” Gregory said. “We’ve just go to go through it and see what happens.”