Emilia Petrachi bump-sets the ball to her teammate. Dustin Harris/Daily Nexus

Emilia Petrachi bump-sets the ball to her teammate. Dustin Harris/Daily Nexus

The past month has been an absolute catastrophe for the UCSB women’s volleyball team. It was assumed that the start of the Big West schedule would be a revitalizing change to its dwindling season, but UCSB’s downward spiral continues as the team remains winless in conference matches.

Losses to UC Davis on Thursday and Cal Poly on Saturday handed Santa Barbara its fifth-straight Big West loss and dropped the Gauchos to 4-11 on the season. The Aggies improved to 9-11, 4-2 in conference matches after sweeping both UCSB and Cal State Fullerton, extending their winning streak to four-games. Cal Poly’s current 12-4 overall record is its best start through 16 matches since 2010. The Mustangs are now 4-1 in Big West play after Saturday’s 3-1 victory over UCSB and are currently on a four-game winning streak.

Despite tallying its 11th-consecutive loss, UCSB consistently applied pressure on Cal Poly in all four sets, outhitting and outblocking the Mustangs in the match’s end result. Santa Barbara registered a .239 hitting clip while Cal Poly ended with a .231 attacking percentage. Furthermore, the Gauchos outblocked Cal Poly 18 to 12, but could not contain the Mustangs in the final two sets. Cal Poly’s largest winning margin in a set was five points in the match’s opening. Its 3-1 win versus Santa Barbara occurred in sets of 25-20, 26-28, 25-22, and 25-23.

“We played great at Cal Poly,” Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. “It’s one of those match’s where it comes down to a couple points here and there. It was extremely evenly matched, it was extremely high level volleyball. It’s the best that we played in a long, long time and it’s just unfortunate that we didn’t come out with a win because we really played well.”

It was a disappointing first set for UCSB as it recorded just nine kills, in addition to a .097 hitting percentage. While Cal Poly managed to sustain a lead throughout the set’s entirety, a 4-0 run that consisted of kills by senior opposite Britton Taylor and senior libero Shauna Klein, along with a block and Mustangs’ service error, helped bring UCSB within one at a score of 9-10.
After missing last weekend’s two matches due to injury, the return of redshirt senior setter Hanna Nielson enhanced the Gauchos’ scoring opportunities with her passing. She was responsible for 28 of the team’s 57 assists and provided a monumental service ace that tied the score, 16-16.

As both teams traded points, the likelihood of an extra-point set seemed definite with the score knotted at 19-19. However, the Mustangs’ 6-2 run to close out the set earned them the 25-20 victory. Scoring half of Cal Poly’s final six points was its star freshman outside hitter Adlee Van Winden. It was the beginning to a spectacular night for Van Winden, who ended the match with a double-double. She recorded 20 kills, just one shy of tying her career-high, and 10 digs.

Despite Van Winden’s surge to help Cal Poly take the 1-0 lead, UCSB’s extra-point win in the second set kept the Gauchos’ aspirations of winning their first conference match alive.

Santa Barbara played its best volleyball during this stretch of the match. It recorded a match-high .400 hitting clip and 22 kills. For UCSB, it was the outstanding offensive performances by senior outside hitter Ali Barbeau, junior middle blockers Phoebe Grunt and Elizabeth Sheffield, as well as Taylor that ultimately led to the Gauchos’ 28-26 win to tie the match at one apiece. Barbeau ended the match with a team-high 17 kills, Grunt with 10, Sheffield and Taylor with nine.

The Gauchos’ tremendous hitting influenced their vigorous defense at the net. Fourteen of UCSB’s 18 blocks were produced from the stout defense of Sheffield, Taylor and Grunt.

Although UCSB excelled on both ends of the court, Cal Poly’s duo at the outside hitter position was too overwhelming. Mirroring the great play of Van Winden was sophomore Raeann Greisen. She notched a total of 17 kills to help Cal Poly prevail for the 3-1 victory.

The focus heading into Thursday’s match against UC Davis was finding a way to “slow down” the Aggies’ senior outside hitter Kaylin Squyres. Despite her match-high 17 digs, the Gauchos certainly achieved their goal, holding Davis’ star to five kills out of 29 total attempts, a -.103 hitting clip, and a match-high eight errors.

“We did a really good job with Squyres, that’s probably one of the worst matches she’s had against us ever,” Lantagne Welch said. “The problem was their other outside hitter, No. 14 had a huge match and we had no answer for her. So while we really did a nice job on one of them, we couldn’t contain another player and we needed to do a better job with that.”

Wearing the No. 14 for the Aggies is none other than junior Kendall Walbrecht. Her 17 kills and .406 hitting average proved to be too much against a stagnant UCSB defense. The combination of Walbrecht’s stellar performance along with Santa Barbara’s disheveled offense, who collected a total of 18 errors and a .114 hitting clip, powered UC Davis to its sweep of the Gauchos in sets of 25-21, 25-10, and 25-20.

Next in line on UCSB’s schedule are home weekend matches versus UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton.