The UCSB women’s volleyball team split its opening games of conference play on the road last weekend, beating No. 21 Long Beach State on Friday before falling to Cal State Fullerton on Saturday.
After five hard-fought sets, Santa Barbara came away with its first win at Long Beach since 2004, ousting the 49ers 3-2. The next day, despite a fourth-set rally, the Gauchos (8-6 overall, 1-1 Big West) were unable to come away with the victory as they lost another tough match in five sets. The loss was just their second in their last nine matches.
“It was very important [to win at least one game],” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “We’re a little disappointed about Fullerton. What its saying is there’s parity. It doesn’t matter what the rankings are.”
Santa Barbara opened Saturday’s match by winning the first set 25-15, but dropped the next two 25-12 and 25-13.
“We basically defeated ourselves by making errors, and they started making fewer errors,” senior libero Chelsey Lowe said.
In the fourth set, UCSB battled back and eked out a 26-24 win, but it would not be enough. The Gauchos opened the fifth set by taking a 6-3 lead, but, after a timeout, Fullerton went on a 4-0 run to jump ahead. A few points later the Gauchos tied the set at nine apiece, but a hitting error from senior right side Stacey Schmidt gave Fullerton the lead. The Titans commanded the rest of the match, going on to win the set 15-10 and hand the Gauchos the loss.
“It didn’t feel like we played badly, they just played better,” Lowe said. “It felt like we couldn’t get going. They had a really good home crowd and that got to us. It’s hard to play away.”
The stat sheet of the match tells a different story than the final result. They recorded a season-high 94 digs and Lowe and sophomore Leah Sully each put up career highs in that category, with 33 and 23, respectively. Lowe now has 1030 career digs. The defense also held Fullerton to just a .139 hitting percentage, but UCSB hit only .070 and committed 30 hitting errors.
“The night before we had one of our best passing games,” Gregory said. “In this game our passing went down. We just continually went outside too much.”
Friday’s match was not any easier, though the result for the Gauchos was more favorable. Long Beach took the first set 25-19 on a hitting error by UCSB, but Santa Barbara came right back in the second set, never trailing on their way to a 25-18 win. Sully led the squad in that set, collecting four kills, including three in a row, to give the Gauchos a 12-6 lead.
The third set was fought down to the final point. After battling back to get within one point at 24-23, the Gauchos lost the set 25-23 on a Long Beach kill. The fourth set saw UCSB trail until a hitting error gave the Gauchos a 21-20 lead. The team then went on to win the set 25-23 and force a fifth set after taking three of the final four points on kills from Schmidt, senior Kara Sherrard and sophomore Katey Thompson, who had a career-high 13 kills on the day, to go along with a career-high 17 digs.
“We were very fortunate [to win that fourth game],” Gregory said. “Once you get down two games to one, you’re just thinking about surviving.”
Early in the fifth set the Gauchos trailed 5-2 , but, after Gregory called a timeout, UCSB went on a 7-2 run during which five Gauchos recorded kills. After battling to get ahead 13-11 in their favor, the Gauchos finished the set – and match – 15-11 behind consecutive kills from Thompson and Sherrard.
“We adjusted our passing rotation,” Gregory said. “The outside hitters turned it on and we defended a little bit better. In a game like that you have to find a way to win, and we did.”
UCSB will next take the court to face Pacific at home on Friday, Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m.