The UCSB women’s volleyball team is playing for its season this weekend as it travels to play at UC Davis Thursday and Cal State Northridge Saturday.

Despite losing to No. 16 Hawaii last weekend, the Gauchos are still just one loss out of first place at 13-9 overall and 8-2 in the Big West.

To stay in contention for a Big West title, this weekend’s games are critical for Santa Barbara. With a victory over Northridge, UCSB would own the tie breaker over the Matadors, which is critical when only the top team in the conference advances to the NCAA Tournament.

Northridge remains in first with a record of 21-4 overall and 11-1 in conference, while Davis currently ranks fifth in the conference at 6-6 overall, 14-11 Big West.

“The team’s been working hard this week and the good thing is that we have so much [time] in front of us for the goals that we’re going for,” Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. “We’re excited to play the two opponents we have this week, and we know and respect them, so we’ll be ready for a good battle.”

Hosting Hawaii last weekend, Santa Barbara lost 3-2, giving up a 2-1 advantage. The loss snapped an eight game winning streak, handing the Gauchos their first loss since late September.

Up first for UCSB is Davis, a team that the Gauchos barely defeated 3-2 in a home match last month. The Aggies are one of only three teams in the conference to have upset Hawaii this year, and they have played well behind a strong offense this season.

Leading the way are senior opposite Devon Damelio and junior middle blocker Victoria Lee. Damelio averages a team-high 3.08 kills per set while Lee leads the entire conference with a .406 hitting percentage.

“UC Davis is a very good team and they play excellent defense,” Lantagne Welch said. “We need to be very patient and determined in finding ways to score against them.”

In the match that could likely decide which team wins the Big West this year, UCSB takes on the second-best offense in the conference in the Matadors on Saturday. The Gauchos are sure to come in with confidence since they beat Northridge 3-0 back in October, holding the Matadors to a measly .170 hitting percentage.

“Their offense and their setter really create things for them and they’re a very good blocking team,” Lantagne Welch said. “We had a pretty balanced offense against them last time and our defense was able to keep them below their averages.”

The Matador’s junior libero Kelcie Randazzo averages 3.71 digs per set, good for fifth best in the conference. Northridge’s offense is extremely balanced with no players averaging over three kills per set and four averaging over 2.5. Setter Sydney Gedryn is third in the Big West averaging 10.39 assists per set.

The emergence of middle blockers Phoebe Grunt and Allie Sullberg on the defense has been huge for UCSB as the season has progressed. The two freshmen are first and fourth in the Big West with averages of 1.22 and 1.11 blocks per set, respectively.

With senior Leah Sully continuing to start at libero and averaging a fourth best 3.79 digs per set, the defense should not have to worry too much about facing two strong offenses this week.

The match against UC Davis begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday, while the match against Northridge will be played at 7 p.m. Saturday and will be viewable on ESPN3.


A version of this article appeared on page 7 of November 14th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.

Photo by Eric Swenson of the Daily Nexus.