Carrying a six-game win streak into last weekend, the UCSB women’s volleyball team was poised to reinforce its flawless conference record — 2-0 at the time –and seal their ticket into the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) top-25 national rankings. Slowed by a flu bug that had bit into several members of the team, the Gauchos (11-4 overall, 2-2 Big West) would instead even their league record after falling to both #22 Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton and miss their opportunity to break into the top-25. Now, in a return to the Thunderdome, a motivated and significantly healthier Santa Barbara squad is ready to reassert its dominance against Cal Poly (5-12, 1-3).
“Going into last weekend I don’t think we had a full squad any day of practice,” senior outside hitter Rebecca Saraceno said. “But going into this weekend, everyone’s feeling better, and we are prepared to come out and play like we did during the winning streak.”
Despite its lackluster performances against LBSU and CSUF, UCSB still ranks first in the league in hitting percentage (.27) and kills per set (14.27), while coming in second with 13.20 assists per set. On paper, the Gauchos are the far and away favorites, with Cal Poly sitting near the bottom of all of these statistical categories. However, six straight losses to the Mustangs coupled with their recent struggles have the ‘Chos on their toes.
“Even though Cal Poly lost a lot of their better players, they’re always going to be a threatening team,” Saraceno said. “We have to come out extra hard and understand that they’re going to be gunning for us.”
Coming out strong from the gates has been a problem for Santa Barbara in recent contests, dropping sets one and two in all of its previous three matches, with only one of them — a comeback against Irvine — resulting in victory.
“I think our main goal for Cal Poly is to come out as fired-up as we can since we haven’t really had that as of late,” freshman outside hitter Leah Sully said.
Hopefully, playing in the friendly confines of the Thunderdome — a gym where UCSB is a perfect 4-0 so far this season — will be enough to catapult the home team over their Central Coast rivals.
“It always gives a team confidence to be able to play on their home court and have fans they know cheer for them,” Sully said.
With any luck, the student body and community members will be out in full force Saturday at 7 p.m., helping to rally their team back to form. A win would not only tilt their conference record back into positive territory but would also allow the Gauchos to overcome a mental hurdle, never having dropped two straight at any other point this season.
“After this past weekend, we all want to prove ourselves in this upcoming game,” sophomore middle blocker Lily Lopez said. “It will definitely be a show of our strength.”