The UC Santa Barbara women’s volleyball team (11-4 overall, 2-2 Big West) was blazing through both nonconference and conference play heading into this past weekend, torching its adversaries through six straight games for the program’s longest win streak in years. However, with a flu bug running through the Gaucho roster, the team was effectively cooled down and did not have enough firepower to overcome #22 Long Beach State (10-3, 3-0) or Cal State Fullerton (11-5, 2-1) on the road.
“A lot of us were pretty under the weather and weren’t as explosive or athletic as we have shown to be in the past,” junior setter Dana Vargas said.
The rust was apparent in the team’s first loss in three weeks at the hands of Long Beach. Much like their previous win against Irvine, the Gauchos got down early, dropping the first two sets at scores of 25-18 and 25-22. Also mirroring their thrilling comeback against the Anteaters, UCSB persevered through sets three and four, tying the match at two sets apiece with the leadership of senior outside hitter Rebecca Saraceno, who finished with 19 kills. But ultimately the Santa Barbara resurgence would fall short, as the top-25 49ers were able to nab the fifth and final set 15-11 and put a halt to the streaking but sickened road team.
“Our middle blockers Stacey [Schmidt] and Kasey [Kipp] played with fevers and terrible coughs and were among several players that were subpar physically,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “I’m very proud of the way we kept fighting even though we didn’t have the ability to finish.”
Though both Coach Gregory and the players were pleased with yet another never-say-die effort, the outcome made it apparent that they need to come out strong from the first whistle.
“It was a great comeback, but we have to learn that we can’t put ourselves in those positions,” Vargas said. “It’s not always going to fall in our favor.”
The fates certainly did not favor UCSB in their second Big West matchup of the weekend, as they suffered their first back-to-back losses of the 2009 season, falling to Fullerton 25-23, 25-22 and 25-21. Though the Gauchos regularly have multiple players that contribute kills in double figures, only Saraceno could exceed that mark with a team-high 14.
“We were in trouble with Fullerton on their game,” Vargas said. “With two blockers on Becca [Saraceno] and a bunch of us not putting our normal pop on the ball, it was a tough one to try and pull out.”
With their next four games at home in the Thunderdome, Santa Barbara will have a fantastic opportunity to begin a fresh winning streak. And with a decent break to boost its immune system and shake off a pair of tough losses, the team has a positive outlook moving forward.
“With these upcoming games at home, we know we have to take care of business,” Gregory said. “As we begin to return to health, our on-court play should only get better.”