SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – It was a bold move for a bold coach.
But, legendary UC Santa Barbara women's volleyball head coach Kathy Gregory had no other choice.
"We had nothing to lose, so let's put a blocker in there and see what happens," said Gregory, in her 37th season at UCSB. "The key to victory was T-Bone hitting that ball to the back so hard."
T-Bone, better known to most as Katey Thompson, had a vicious kill that helped spark an unimaginable rally as the Gauchos stunned UC Davis, 23-25, 25-22, 14-25, 25-23, 18-16. The win was UCSB's ninth in its past 11 matches and puts the Gauchos in first place in the Big West. UCSB is 10-6 overall and 3-1 in the conference. UC Davis, who was receiving votes in the AVCA Top-25 poll entering the weekend, fell to 16-3, 2-2.
But what truly set Santa Barbara up for the improbable win was when UC Davis' best player, Allison Whitson, was serving match point at 14-11 and served the ball into the net. That allowed Gregory to sub in Erica Lau as a server and put T-Bone into the match.
An attack error from UCD and a Leah Sully kill tied things up at 14-apiece. The Aggies appeared rattled and a bad set gave UCSB a 15-14 advantage before Davis evened things up at 15-all.
That's when Thompson struck. She sent a screaming liner to the back and gave UCSB a one-point advantage. While that point didn't end things, it only enhanced the thoughts in the Gauchos' minds that they would not be defeated. Kills from Stacey Schmidt and Kara Sherrard finally ended the 2-hour, 15-minute match.
Lily Lopez had a brilliant match, setting a career-high with 17 kills, one of four players in double digits in putaways.
Sherrard had 18 kills and 16 digs while Sully and Schmidt also had double-doubles. Sully, who also had two solo blocks, finished with 11 kills and 14 digs while the All-American Schmidt had 14 kills and 10 digs to go with a solo block.
After managing just 14 points in the third set loss, UCSB won a see-saw battle in the fourth set. Trailing 20-19, a Lopez kill evened things up before UCD's Betsy Sedlak had a hitting error and Schmidt had one of her three service aces to give the Gauchos a 22-20 cushion. UCD pulled back even at 23-all before setter Hanna Nielson dropped in her lone kill of the night and Sully had a kill to send things to the fifth game.
On the evening the freshman setter Nielson had a career-best 59 assists.
Santa Barbara trailed for the entire fifth set, dropping behind 4-1 and later 6-3. The Gauchos got close at 6-5 and 11-9, but Davis pulled away again. That's when Gregory employed her version of the Hail Mary and the five-man infield.
"Honestly, when we were down 14-11 I was thinking I'd like to have those three service errors back," Gregory said with a smile. The Gauchos had nine service errors on the evening.
And, for a UCSB team that was outblocked 16.5 to 9.0, the comeback seemed that much sweeter against the bigger Aggies. Prior to a stunning 3-0 loss to Cal Poly on Friday night, UCD had just one defeat on the season and was riding an eight-match winning streak.
UCSB doesn't return to the friendly confines of the Thunderdome until a Saturday, Oct. 15 match with UC Riverside at 7:30 p.m. That will be the night UCSB inducts volleyball star Judy Bellomo as a Legend of the 'Dome. Join us for this historic event. Click here for more information.
For tickets, please click here or call (805) 893-UCSB.