The UCSB women’s volleyball team will play their last two matches of the season this weekend, playing at UC Irvine tonight before returning home to play UC Riverside in their last match at the Thunderdome.
Whether they win both of the weekend matches or get swept, the 6-8 Gauchos (10-15 overall) have secured the sixth spot in the Big West. As of Oct. 27, UCSB was ranked 117th among all NCAA teams in RPI, virtually ensuring they will not be selected to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season.
Cal Poly and UC Irvine are tied for second place with 10-4 conference records, while Cal State Fullerton and Pacific are battling for third with 9-6 records. If #23 Long Beach State wins one more match, they will secure the Big West title. Even if the 49ers lose their last two matches, the best the Mustangs or the Anteaters can do is tie them for first, so Long Beach has already secured an automatic NCAA bid.
“Long Beach is graduating a lot of their big hitters this year,” sophomore setter Dana Vargas said. “And so is Cal Poly. So hopefully by next year we’ll be ready to compete, get back in the NCAAs and win. As ambitious as that sounds that’s what we want to do.”
Head Coach Kathy Gregory has said that the top three teams in the Big West generally advance to the NCAA tournament. After losing in four sets to Irvine last week, the Gauchos have another shot at ruining the Anteaters’ playoff chances.
“At this point, we’re just thinking about trying to win for each other,” Vargas said. “The seniors will be playing their last games. We don’t have too much longer with each other, so hopefully it works out.”
The Gauchos were still in the hunt for an NCAA bid at the end of October, but they have lost four consecutive matches in November – the second longest losing streak since the five they dropped from Sept. 11 to Sept. 19.
Last weekend, they managed to take the second set in four-set losses to Cal Poly and UC Irvine but were unable to use the momentum to close in the third and fourth sets.
“We’re gonna work out really hard in the offseason,” Vargas said. “We need to get in the best shape possible to win those fifth games and close matches.”
Freshman outside hitter Nikki Doyle will assume the starting position again for junior Rebecca Saraceno. Junior outside hitter Lindsay Fletcher will replace Charlene DeHoog — whose 17 kills against Cal Poly last weekend were five shy of her season high — in the starting lineup for the first time in Big West play.
Last weekend, Vargas hit 51 assists against Cal Poly – her most in four sets the entire season. Senior libero Leigh Stephenson, who had a season high of two aces against Irvine last weekend, leads the Big West with 4.36 digs per set.
Senior outside hitter Lauren McLaughlin hit her 1377th career kill last weekend, moving to seventh place on the Gaucho all-time kill list. Sophomore middle blocker Kasey Kipp ranks third in the Big West in blocks, hitting 1.12 blocks per set.
UC Riverside holds last place in the Big West, with a 3-11 conference record. The Gauchos swept them in their last meeting on Oct. 18.