With just four matches to go in the regular season, the UCSB women’s volleyball team is in as good a position as any team to win the Big West. The only thing keeping the Gauchos from a conference title for the first time since 2004 is two games.
Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside visit Santa Barbara this weekend for the Gauchos’ last two home games of the year. If Santa Barbara earns two victories, it clinches the Big West championship.
At 15-9 overall and 10-2 in the conference, UCSB has its destiny in its own hands. Fullerton comes into the weekend at 10-15 overall and 3-10 in the Big West while Riverside remains winless in conference matches at 0-13 in league and 1-24 overall.
“We just have to always focus on our next opponent,” Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. “We need to be focused on this weekend only, taking care of business one match at a time.”
The Titans come to town Friday, losers in eight of their last nine matches. They are led on offense by senior right side Alyse Hensley and senior outside hitter Bre Moreland, both averaging over three kills per set.
Moreland also leads a defense that averages the most digs of any team in the Big West. With an average of 3.59 digs per set, Moreland has the highest average of any non-libero in the Big West.
On Saturday, the Highlanders might still be looking for the first win in over two months. With the lowest offensive statistics and blocks per set average in the conference, Riverside will be fighting hard to get the first conference win of a disappointing season.
“Each team we go up against we’re going to have to be extremely ready and fired up to play,” Lantagne Welch said. “Every one of them we just need to take one at a time and go from there.”
UCSB has won games all season without a top offensive unit, as they average just the fifth most kills per set in the Big West. At third in blocks per set, their defense has been one of their strength.
Freshman middle blockers Phoebe Grunt and Allie Sullberg have dominated the middle with averages of 1.23 and 1.10 blocks per set, good for first and fourth in the conference, respectively.
Senior Leah Sully has been a key in both the defense and the passing game in her twelve starts at libero this season. Her 3.83 digs per set are fourth best in the Big West.
On offense, senior opposite Katey Thompson boasts the conference’s third most kills per set with an average of 3.36. Freshman outside hitter and sophomore outside hitter Ali Barbeau back Thompson up with solid averages of 2.73 and 2.52, respectively.
This weekend, the Gauchos play their final homestand of the year against the two teams at the bottom of the standings, a favorable matchup for a team that can almost taste the finish line.
“We’re all super excited; we want to win the Big West so bad,” freshman outside hitter Ali Spindt said. “We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing, working hard in practice, and I think we’re going to pull it out.”
The match against Fullerton begins at 7 p.m. on Friday at home, and the match with Riverside will also be set to begn at 7 p.m. on Saturday in the Thunderdome.
A version of this article appeared on page 7 of November 21st’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Eric Swenson of the Daily Nexus.