Just call them the comeback kids. For their second straight home game, the Gauchos (12-4 overall, 3-2 Big West) scratched and clawed their way to a five-set victory after allowing their opponents to pull ahead in the early going. This weekend, Cal Poly (6-13, 2-4) was the visitor that tasted defeat, dropping set four 25-20 and set five 15-12 after charging to a 2-1 set advantage. The win was a big one for Santa Barbara, righting ship against a determined Mustang team after dropping its previous two conference matchups.
“You always have to be ready with any team in the Big West,” sophomore middle blocker Lily Lopez said. “The league is definitely more balanced than it has been in years.”
Cal Poly’s competitiveness was apparent from the start, hanging tough despite a notable lack of experience in their starting seven. After falling 25-21 in the first set, the Mustangs battled back and swung the momentum in their favor with consecutive 26-24 wins in sets two and three.
“It was good to win the first set, but we still have to work on not letting teams back in,” junior setter Dana Vargas said.
The Gauchos looked primed to take down the second set with a consistent lead throughout, but let Cal Poly rattle off a string of points to steal the set away from them. The third set was strikingly similar, as UCSB could not close despite holding leads in the 20s. While it did not do any permanent damage at game’s end, the recurring theme of not finishing sets is an issue that the team is working hard to resolve.
“I don’t think anybody can put their finger on it,” Vargas said. “It comes down to us needing to consciously remember that the game isn’t over until we hit 25 points.”
Fortunately for Santa Barbara, they were able to reach the 25-point mark and wrap up the fourth set to bring the match to a deciding fifth set. Junior outside hitter Charlene “Char” DeHoog, whose entrance into the game sparked the Gaucho offense, ended any thoughts of another late Mustang surge with a pair of bone-crushing kills to claim the set for UCSB.
“Char brought fire, some key kills, and I think everyone agrees that we wouldn’t have won without her on the outside,” Vargas said.
In the fifth and final set, Cal Poly came out as the early aggressor, jumping on top 7-2 in a set that only goes to 15 points.
Fortunately for the Gauchos, sophomore middle blocker Stacey Schmidt continued an offensive showcase that had been on display all night, spiking home three straight kills to help her team get back into the game. Schmidt tied a career-high with 15 kills on the night, while chipping in two solo blocks on the defensive side of the ball.
“She [Schmidt] was unstoppable,” Lopez said. “She saw holes in the block and knew exactly where to put it.”
After tying the score at eight following one of senior outside hitter Rebecca Saraceno’s team-high 19 kills, Santa Barbara would go on a 7-4 run to complete the comeback over a young, but talented Cal Poly squad.
Next up for UCSB is a nonconference match against Pepperdine (10-6, 3-1 WCC) tomorrow night at the Thunderdome, with first serve set for 7 p.m. Though the Waves ride into Santa Barbara having swept their last three opponents, the Gauchos are anxious and ready for a mid-week melee.
“Pepperdine is big and physical, but if we break down their passing and play our game they are beatable,” Vargas said. “We’ve beaten a lot of good teams in their conference so defeating them would be big for us.”