Her “Dare To Be Great” poster hanging over the front entrance to the Thunderdome reads: “Dare To Win.” And that is exactly what senior setter Dana Vargas has done for the women’s volleyball team since she stepped foot on campus as a freshman.

[media-credit name=”Daniel Wade” align=”alignleft” width=”152″][/media-credit]“Setters like Dana are once in a lifetime,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “She is a great player, an amazing person and has had an unbelievable career here at Santa Barbara.”

Vargas has played in every match in her four-year UCSB career and ranks third all-time in Gaucho history with 4,667 career assists. She currently ranks third in the Big West this season with 10.69 assists per set, and her solid play this season for Santa Barbara has the Gauchos in fourth place in its conference with a 9-6 conference record.

A Long Beach native, Vargas grew up in a sports household. Her mother, Debbie Green, who played volleyball at USC, is a former Olympic silver medalist and the Long Beach State assistant coach of 23 years. At Long Beach, she coached her oldest daughter, Dana’s older sister Nicole, who was a setter as well. Additionally, Dana’s father Joseph Vargas is a former two-time Olympian for the USA water polo team.

“Coming from a family like that, I was obviously influenced a lot,” Vargas said. “They really helped me take advantage of the opportunities I had in front of me, and I am very grateful.”

“Dana has had a lot of pressure on her because of her family and their success in athletics,” Gregory said. “She was always expected to perform, and she has. She handles the pressure like a pro and is always focused.”

Nicole, who plays volleyball professionally in France, is the root of much of the competitive spirit that Dana possesses. The two would battle endlessly, competing in everything from sports to board games growing up.

“I can’t think of one time I beat my older sister in anything,” Vargas said. “Not in volleyball, any sports, or even Monopoly. Ever since I was little I have had a really competitive spirit and wanted to win everything, but for some reason, she would always beat me.”

It is safe to say that Vargas feels right at home in Santa Barbara.

“I love Santa Barbara,” Vargas said. “My teammates and coaches are awesome, the atmosphere is amazing, and the weather isn’t too bad either.”

For a player whose career will be forever marked in Gaucho volleyball history, Vargas was dangerously close to committing to University of Miami over UCSB as a high school senior.

“At first I didn’t even want to come on a visit but my mom forced me to,” Vargas confessed. “Kathy and I connected on a player-coach level and two days later I called [Kathy] to commit here. To this day I know that I made the best decision for me.”

Vargas stormed onto campus, making an immediate impact in one of the most impressive freshman seasons in school history. The freshman setter played in all 52 matches and dished out 1,381 assists — good for ninth all time in a single season at UCSB. Vargas ranked fifth in the Big West with her 11.51 assists per set as her play earned her Big West All-Freshman team honors.

“I recruited [Dana] to be the starter right away,” Gregory said. “I was not really surprised when she came in and played well right away. She is extremely talented and focused and I knew what she was capable of.”

In her first ever match for the Gauchos, Vargas lived up to, if not exceeded, her coach’s expectations. She tallied 61 assists against San Diego State that game — one shy of her career-high set earlier this season against Cal Poly.

“I remember that first match really well,” Vargas said. “Unfortunately we lost in five, which was a bummer, but that really boosted my confidence and showed that I belonged. It set the tone for the rest of my season.”

Although Vargas played well individually, her first few seasons at UCSB did not go so well, with the team finishing below .500 in each of her first two seasons at Santa Barbara.

“Those first few seasons, we didn’t do very well as a team, and I took that kind of hard,” Vargas said. “I’m such a competitive person, so it got to me a little.”

Vargas’ list of career accolades is not a short one. Last season as a junior, Vargas was named an American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American Honorable Mention and received First Team All-West Region and First Team All-Big West honors. Her 1,297 assists last year were also tops in the Big West and her average of 10.90 assists per set ranked her #2 in the Big West and 40th in the nation.

Apart from the impressive statistics she continues to compile on the court, Vargas’ leadership is the key. For anyone watching a Gauchos volleyball game, it is clear that Vargas is the team captain. Always vocal and encouraging, Vargas is constantly pumping up her team, being a verbal leader on the court.

“It has been a great experience to play with Dana,” senior outside hitter Charlene DeHoog said. “I have watched her grow and mature as a player and grow as a person these past four years. She is a natural born leader and has so much confidence on the court.”

Another noticeable characteristic of Vargas is her passion. Self-described as feisty, Vargas more than makes up for her lack of size at 5’7” with her intensity.

“I love her aggressive personality,” Gregory said. “Her leadership and passion make the whole team better. She always plays her hardest and is always in control, which is important for a setter and team leader.”

After graduating in the spring with a degree in sociology and a minor in history, Vargas plans to follow in the footsteps of her older sister and go to Europe to play professionally.

“Dana is an awesome person,” DeHoog said. “She will succeed in life because she is so reliable and such a great leader.”

Santa Barbara will close out its 2010 campaign on the road this weekend at UC Riverside. For Vargas, it will be her final match in a Gaucho uniform, the culmination of four years of hard work for Vargas.

“My experience here has been amazing,” Vargas said. “Kathy is one of the few coaches who truly cares about each of her players and what happens to them after college. I am so fortunate, and UCSB and the athletic program have been so amazing to my team and me. They have made my experience something to remember.”