Since the start of conference play, there have been two major problems haunting the UC Santa Barbara women’s volleyball team – coming out strong and finishing off opponents after building up a lead. In their first game against Pacific on Friday, the Gauchos (14-5 overall, 4-3 Big West) were able to win in spite of these issues, pulling off a thrilling five set victory. Facing UC Davis on Saturday, they were not so lucky. The visiting Aggies turned the tables on the home team after falling behind two sets to one, escaping with a win following an 18-16 comeback in the fifth set.
“We need to make some changes,” junior setter Dana Vargas said. “I have no idea what those changes are going to be, but we can’t keep repeating the same routine over and over again.”
Opening their weekend of play against Pacific (15-4, 5-3), UCSB looked flat from the first whistle, allowing the Tigers to jump out to an 11-5 advantage that prompted Head Coach Kathy Gregory to burn an early timeout. Though a renewed Gaucho lineup battled back resiliently after the break, the first set went to UOP 26-24.
Carrying over the momentum from their first set rally, Santa Barbara returned to form in set number two behind senior outside hitter Rebecca Saraceno, who hit home a whopping nine kills in the period. Saraceno finished with a match-high 27 kills and added 10 digs for her 11th double-double of the season.
“Becca’s the full package,” Vargas said. “As a teammate, you couldn’t ask anything more of her.”
After rolling to a 25-15 win to even up the set count, UCSB returned with the same energy after halftime to claim the third set in similar fashion. True to form however, the Gauchos could not close in the fourth, bringing the game to a deciding fifth set.
“We have to learn to close out [matches] up two sets to one … we’ve put ourselves in that position too many times,” Vargas said.
Fortunately for Santa Barbara, they had just enough left in the tank to put away the final set 15-9 to put their win streak at three leading up to their match with UC Davis.
Playing on back-to-back nights, the home team’s clash with the Aggies (15-7, 6-2) opened up in style as the UCSB Athletic Dept. honored the school’s first Legend of the ‘Dome, paying tribute to all-time Gaucho kill leader Roberta Gehlke.
After going down by six points in another sluggish start, Santa Barbara looked as though they were waiting for Gehlke to suit up and give them a spark. But again, the Gauchos toughed up and ignited their play on their own, edging out a back-and-forth second set before dominating the third. With a chance at redemption in regards to closing out the match, UCSB could not convert, giving way to a fifth set for the second night in a row.
With a 7-2 lead midway through the final period, UCSB looked primed for another heart-pounding victory. Instead, an Aggie comeback put the road warriors one point away from victory at 15-14 before a hard spike from Saraceno saved Santa Barbara from elimination. Soon after, a kill from junior middle blocker Kasey Kipp put the Gauchos at match point up 16-15, but three consecutive Davis points — the last of which came off a Santa Barbara attack error — ended all hopes of a 2-0 homestand.
“We made some critical mistakes in the Davis game, particularly at the end [of the match],” Vargas said. “And to their credit, they capitalized when we let up.”
Currently occupying the fifth position in the Big West standings, UCSB must now use the upcoming week to prepare for a big road test against #21 UC Irvine, a team the Gauchos defeated earlier this season in what else but a five-set comeback. Though they made not be able to solve the puzzle of their repeating routine, there are certainly areas that can be worked on further to try and put it to rest.
“We have to keep working on our defense and getting up for blocking,” Vargas said. “We can’t waste any more time with conference almost halfway through.”