Leonard Paulasa / The Daily Nexus

The UC Santa Barbara women’s volleyball team will host No. 19 Hawai’i this Saturday after having swept both UC Davis and UC Riverside this past weekend.

UCSB currently leads the Big West with a 15-1 overall record and will be hoping to continue their form against their toughest opponent yet. Hawai’i meanwhile is 13-2 and sits in third place. 

After starting the season at 2-1, the Gauchos have been on an absolute tear winning 13 straight games including sweeps in each of their past four. Hawai’i has had similar success, though has lost two of their last five games including a meltdown at home against UC Irvine, a bottomfeeder team that was swept by UCSB just over a week ago. 

Hawai’i had dominated early, winning the first two sets (25-11, 25-21) before the Anteaters were able to take three straight for the road win. 

The win was a first for UCI, who had previously lost 40 straight matches to Hawai’i, and despite going down 0-2 early on, they were able to rally on the back of their offensive depth. Abby Marjama (14), Loryn Carter (13), and Onye Ofoegbu (13) all posted double-digit kills while Kelly Negron led both teams with 30 helpers. 

I will, however, take a step back and say that those statistics may paint a different picture than what the fans saw on Friday. Hawai’i led both teams in every category save for blocks, while digs were even. Unfortunately for Hawai’i, they also committed seven more errors than the Anteaters and will surely be hurting after they let the game slip away with a 23-25 third set loss. They never recovered and posted a measly 29 points over last two sets.

Hawai’i then hosted Cal State Fullerton, yet another team recently swept by the Gauchos, where they scraped by with a 3-2 win that saw them post more errors than their opponents for the third straight game. 

In fact, Hawai’i had not committed more errors than any of their opponents during their 10-0 start to the season but have since committed more errors than their opponents in four of their last five matches. This stretch has seen Hawai’i’s Rainbow Wahine volleyball squad go just 11-10 in sets. 

While Hawai’i’s surprise loss against UCI can be chalked up to be a small blemish, it is important to note that teams in pursuit of the title must win the must-wins. UCSB has done just that, dominating every opponent aside from University of Colorado who managed a 3-1 victory a mere three games into the season. The difference here is that CU is a solid but average 8-6 team while Hawai’i seemingly assumed they’d continue their winning streak over the 4-12 Anteaters. 

UCSB and Hawai’i split the series last year with the road team coming out on top in both matches. Hawai’i pulled off a 3-2 win at the Thunderdome while the Gauchos vacationed to a 3-0 sweep in Honolulu. 

UCSB’s Lindsey Ruddins tied Hawai’i’s McKenna Ross with 16 kills in the first match but led both teams with 11 at Hawai’i. Despite only posting 19 kills over last weekend’s two games, Ruddins has been in phenomenal form this season and will be anticipating arguably the brightest spotlight yet as the Gauchos look to carry their momentum through a long stretch of conference play. 

The games against against UCR and Davis proved that the Gauchos don’t need insane firepower every game, but that their depth is composed of players young and old that are more than capable of competing at the highest level. 

There was not a single double-double by a Gaucho last weekend and yet they still walked away with two sweeps. This team is legitimate and they’re ready to compete. 

Two of our nation’s most ferocious programs will battle it out this Saturday at the Stan Sheriff Center in Manoa, Hawaii. The game starts at 7 p.m.