Having beaten three teams ranked in the top-25 nationally, the UC Santa Barbara women’s volleyball team (13-2 overall, 2-0 in the Big West) has already proven they can handle some of the top teams in the country. Now, the challenge lies in maintaining their momentum as conference play gets in full swing.
Coming off a comeback thriller against #21 UC Irvine, the red hot Gauchos take their six-game win streak on the road this weekend to take on #22 Long Beach State (8-3, 1-0) and Cal State Fullerton (9-5, 0-1). Though they have dropped their last seven matches against the 49ers, Santa Barbara ia confident despite having several players stricken with the flu.
“With six of our girls missing practices, we’re not at our peak physically, but we should be ready to go come Friday,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said.
While the team is sure to load up on fluids to regain full strength, it is a fluid offense that has led Santa Barbara back to the promise land this season. UCSB currently leads the Big West in kills, hitting percentage and assists.
Senior outside hitter Rebecca Saraceno, recently named the Sports Imports/American Volleyball Coaches Association Division I National Player of the Week, has been the offensive juggernaut for the Gauchos this season, currently second in the league with a 4.41 kill per set average. Sophomore middle blocker Stacey Schmidt has been the high percentage performer, leading the Big West with a .424 hitting percentage. Finally, junior setter Dana Vargas’ improved passing has her sitting atop the league leaderboard with 11.55 assists per set.
In a stunning three-set reversal to overcome the Anteaters, the Gauchos showed a mental toughness to complement a physical style of play that has allowed them to reenter the upper echelon of a talent-laden conference. If both of these elements come to play this weekend, it would be unsurprising to see yet another ranked foe take a plunge, which could ultimately allow an upstart UCSB squad to enter the AVCA top-25.