After two consecutive losing seasons, the UC Santa Barbara women’s volleyball team is back with a vengeance. With Big West play right around the bend, the Gauchos have reemerged as a conference contender, asserting their dominance with a 9-2 record that spans four road tournaments and two victorious home games.
“Our experience has been important,” junior setter Dana Vargas said. “We don’t have the excuse that we’re a young team anymore, so we’ve gone out there every game and done all we could to prove that we belong.”
UCSB got off to a strong start right out of the gates, winning their first two matches at the University of New Mexico Tournament where both Vargas and senior outside hitter Rebecca Saraceno were named to the All-Tournament team.
“[Saraceno] is probably the best all-around player on our team and maybe in the whole conference,” Vargas said. “We wouldn’t be where we are without her.”
Saraceno continued her roll in back-to-back matchups with #15 San Diego, tallying 40 total kills in two unprecedented wins over the Toreros. The first of the two victories marked Santa Barbara’s only win over a ranked opponent in nearly two years.
“We obviously came in as the underdogs, but once things got started we showed that we were ready to compete,” Vargas said.
Sophomore middle blocker Stacey Schmidt chipped in her own monster performance in the second leg of the doubleheader, setting a new career high with 15 kills. Coming off a major knee surgery that forced her to redshirt 2008, Schmidt has shored up the Gaucho defense while ranking amongst the national leaders in hitting percentage.
“Stacey has been a force for us ever since her first game back,” Vargas said.
The Gauchos remained focused after the pair of big wins, winning five of their next six matches which includes a current four-game win streak.
In their latest tournament competition played at Cal Poly, Vargas herself ended up with tournament MVP honors after dishing out 92 total assists in 3-1 defeats of Seattle University and Idaho, leading up to the team’s most recent win. In their return to the Thunderdome, the Gauchos had no problem disposing of Loyola Marymount in a convincing 3-0 sweep.
With several tough Big West opponents on the horizon, UCSB is not getting overconfident with their newfound success. Rather, the team has its sights set on a very achievable goal, though the ultimate prize is by no means out of question.
“This year, our expectation is to make the NCAA tournament,” Vargas said. “That being said, winning the Big West Championship would be amazing.”