Already having proven that they can rally back from a deficit, the UC Santa Barbara women’s volleyball team (13-4 overall, 3-2 Big West) can now take pride in their ability to hold a lead. After battling neck-and-neck with Pepperdine (10-7, 3-1 WCC) through the first half to claim sets one and two, Santa Barbara nearly put the game away in a wild third period before ending the threat with a convincing 25-17 finish in the fourth. Though the win does not improve their conference record, the way in which the home team handled itself made the victory plenty satisfying for all parties involved.

“The last we beat Pepperdine was [in 2006],” junior setter Dana Vargas said. “It’s our gym, it’s our house. … We took care of business.”

Rather than digging themselves into a hole as they have in recent matches, it was all business for Santa Barbara from the first whistle. Faced with a physically imposing Waves offense, UCSB countered with a strong defensive front to keep level with
Pepperdine in a back-and-forth set that saw 13 ties. Leading the charge was scrappy sophomore libero Chelsey Lowe, who recorded a career-high 26 digs on the night.

“We’re getting a lot more chances because of the way we play defense,” Vargas said. “Chelsey’s been doing a great job all year sticking in with the hard hits and touching those [volley]balls.”

Though the defensive efforts were there from the get-go, the offense also came in with a purpose. Led by senior outside hitter Rebecca Saraceno, who tallied seven kills in the first set, the Gauchos hit at a match-high 73 percent in the opening set to sneak past Pepperdine 25-23.

The second set would be played to the tune of familiar themes — tie scores and the dominance of Saraceno. After a few well placed spikes from junior outside Charlene DeHoog to jump start the Gauchos early, Saraceno would pick up right where she left off, beginning a fresh killing spree that laid waste to several Waves players. Not to be outdone, Pepperdine kept it tight all the way until the end before a final kill by DeHoog put the nail in the coffin of another 25-23 thriller.

“We fought really hard in the first and second [sets],” said Lowe. “Our consistency through both sets was really big for us.”

Looking for their fifth sweep of the season, the Gauchos failed to enter the third set with the same intensity as they had in the first two. A slew of Santa Barbara miscues allowed Pepperdine to build up a sizeable 20-12 advantage, forcing Head Coach Kathy Gregory to call two timeouts in the period. After a second breather however, the Gauchos were able to call upon a second wind, rattling off eight straight points with freshman outside Leah Sully at the serve. With two match points at 25-24 and 26-25, the fans in attendance prepared for an early exit but would not be obliged, as a resilient Pepperdine team held on to win the set 30-28.

With the momentum back on Pepperdine’s side of the court, it looked as though the Thunderdome was in store for another nail-biter. But with the score tied at 6-6, Vargas would not let that happen. The Santa Barbara pass artist, who made several key plays throughout the night, pinpointed three of her career-high four service aces during a 5-0 rally to put her team in front by a comfortable margin. The lead would endure for the remainder of the set, as a Saraceno ace put the fourth and final period away 25-17.

“[Rebecca] never gets tired,” Lowe said. “We kept setting her up, and [Pepperdine] just couldn’t handle her heat.”