The UCSB women’s volleyball team finishes off a three-game home stand this weekend with the season’s first installment of the blue-green rivalry.
The Gauchos enter Saturday’s game with a 6-8 overall record and at 1-1 Big West mark. The Mustangs find themselves at 8-7 overall and tied for first in league at 2-0 in conference after sweeping Irvine and Long Beach State 6-0 last weekend.
“We’re always excited to play Cal Poly but even more so that they’re tied for first and we get them at home,” senior outside hitter Katey Thompson said. “All of that just contributes to so much excitement, especially now that we can focus on just them.”
In a year that has already seen a lot of change for UCSB, last weekend saw senior outside hitter Leah Sully make her first two starts of the season at libero. While she has consistently led the team in kills, Sully’s temporary move to libero comes at a crucial time during the season as the team continues searching for answers in their rotation.
“It’s a bummer not having [Leah] hitting because she’s such a great asset to the team, but she’s doing a great job at [playing libero],” Thompson said. “She’s been one of our big hitters this entire year, so that definitely puts some pressure on the other outside hitters who are filling her shoes.”
That pressure didn’t seem to faze the Gauchos’ hitters in their dominant victory over Irvine last weekend, as they finished off an astounding .394 percent of their kill attempts. Behind a strong team attack, five players end up with five or more kills, the most they’ve had in any three-set game this season.
“We’ve had to be more balanced,” Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. “We’ve played an extremely tough schedule and [gained] a lot of experience from that. ”
The players most responsible for filling in for Sully as outside hitter are freshman Ali Spindt and sophomore Ali Barbeau, who had 26 and 20 kills, respectively, in the two games last weekend.
“They’re doing really well,” Thompson said of the other outside hitters. “They’re young so they don’t have as much experience as Leah does but they’re definitely stepping up.”
Thompson continues to dominate the position with a team-high 3.46 kills per set, well ahead of Sully’s second-highest of 2.47.
The rival Mustangs were able to do what UCSB couldn’t do and defeat the 19ers last weekend. Their duo of senior outside hitters Chelsea Hardin and Megan McConnell lead another well-balanced attack with each averaging over three kills per set.
However, the Gauchos are not as worried about Cal Poly’s attack as they are about their defense.
“We know that Cal Poly is a very strong, defensive team,” Lantagne Welch said.
The Gauchos and Mustangs face off at 7 p.m. this weekend in the Thunderdome.
A version of this article appeared on page 7 of Oct. 3rd’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Shaminder Dhindsa of the Daily Nexus.