Barring a big-time snub from the NCAA committee, the UC Santa Barbara women’s volleyball team may have just swept its way into the postseason. In their final conference match Saturday at the Thunderdome, the Gauchos (22-7 overall, 12-5 Big West) disposed of the Cal State Northridge Matadors (8-22, 4-12) in straight sets to move one step closer to the NCAA tournament after two years of missing the cut.
“We played really well and controlled every aspect of the game to win,” junior setter Dana Vargas said.
Returning from a knee injury that left her sidelined for the last two games, senior outside hitter Becca Saraceno came back with a vengeance, leading her team with 10 kills and eight digs in a game that gave UCSB a second-place Big West finish.
“Becca leads by example,” Vargas said. “It’s nice to have her back.”
With the return of its prime time player, the first set was all Santa Barbara. Saraceno got things going for the Gauchos with a kill to open play but received plenty of help from her teammates as the match wore on.
With multiple defenders sent Saraceno’s way early and often, the UCSB middle blockers got in on the action. Keeping CSUN on its toes, junior Kasey Kipp and sophomores Stacey Schmidt and Lily Lopez combined for nine kills in a dominant 25-15 opening set.
“When we win games easily, our middles are a big part of it,” Vargas said. “[Kasey, Stacey and Lily] made the most of their opportunities in transition.”
The second set saw an improved effort from the visiting Matadors, as Northridge battled its way to an 18-18 tie in the only set of the night where they had more kills than errors. However, UCSB turned it on late and closed with a 7-3 run, capped by Saraceno’s eighth kill of the evening, ending set two in the home team’s favor 25-21.
With momentum on their side of the court, the Gauchos promptly turned a third set 14-14 tie into a 25-18 win, sealing the deal with two thundering spikes from who else but Saraceno, a player that finished the season as the conference’s kills leader.
In addition to out-attacking (.244 to .064 hitting percentage) and out-hustling (36 to 24 digs) Northridge, UCSB was also able to out-block the Matadors — a team that finished the season with the second-most total blocks in the Big West.
With one game remaining on their schedule, a nonconference home game against San Diego State, the Gauchos have only a few days time left to gear up for their final opponent with the 2009 season finale coming on Tuesday at 7 p.m. inside the Thunderdome.
Though the NCAA bracket will not be released until Sunday, the team must focus in on its final opponent before looking ahead to the tournament as a loss to an unranked opponent to close out the season would be devastating to Santa Barbara’s RPI.