Maybe it was the inability of star senior outside Becca Saraceno to get into rhythm. Maybe the bottom-feeding Mustangs were getting tired of losing. Either way, a red-hot UCSB women’s volleyball team (19-6 overall, 9-4 Big West) was cooled off within the icy confines of Mott Gym on Saturday as Cal Poly (7-19, 3-10) put a stop to the Gauchos’ five-game winning streak, pulling off a shocking upset to end a seven-game skid.
“We came in cold, and after seeing our warm-ups, I didn’t have a good feeling about [the game],” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “Physically, we were a step slow, and no one besides [sophomore middle blocker] Lily Lopez played well.”
The rust of the entire lineup was apparent from the first whistle, as the Mustangs charged out to a 17-10 lead in the first set. Not to be outdone, Santa Barbara overcame the seven-point deficit to tie the contest at 21 apiece before completing the comeback 25-23 on one of Saraceno’s 12 kills. But after nailing down the first set, the Gauchos began to let the match slip away.
“The most disappointing thing about the game was that we played poorly, still won the first set, but couldn’t carry over that momentum,” Gregory said.
It did not take long for the momentum to shift back to the home team, as Cal Poly started the second set with remarkable energy that mirrored their output in the first. Not long into the set, the Gauchos found themselves down 7-1, an advantage that was cut into but ultimately maintained by the Mustangs until the set’s end with a 25-22 final.
The third set would play out in similar fashion, as a tenacious Cal Poly defensive limited the Big West leaders in team hitting percentage on the way to a 25-18 win. For the night, UCSB was outhit .33 to .19 and out-blocked 12.5 to four.
“Their effort was outstanding, their blocking was good, and we had no answer for them in the middle,” Gregory said.
Down two sets to one, the Gauchos looked to their prime time player to lead the offensive charge, but unfortunately, Saraceno would hardly get a chance. Midway through the fourth set, the conference-kills leader took a tumble hustling to make a pass, slicing her kneecap on a courtside table — an injury that will likely sideline her for this weekend’s matches.
With Saraceno out and already trailing, Santa Barbara would lose by seven for the second consecutive set to give the last place team in the Big West their third conference win of the season. Though they were obviously upset with the match’s surprising outcome, the team’s main concern was on the well being of their injured teammate.
“We were more focused on Becca’s injury because we weren’t sure if she would be playing again this season when [the fall] happened,” Gregory said. “We played one of our worst games of the season, but the loss was secondary.”
With only three conference matches left on schedule, Santa Barbara will have to refocus for a stretch run with the hope of a Big West Tournament #1 seed still very much alive. UCSB’s next game will come on the road against UC Davis, a team that is currently tied with them for second in the conference behind Long Beach State. With the absence of Saraceno, it will be interesting to see if the Gauchos will have enough firepower to win out their remaining games. Needless to say, everyone will need to step up the intensity with a new offensive strategy forthcoming.
“We have to adjust our passing because Becca was our main target,” Gregory said. “[Junior outside] Charlene De Hoog will move into starting lineup. … She’s been waiting for this chance and is very capable of filling in for Becca.”