Coming off a taxing five-set loss to Cal Poly ealier in the week, the Gauchos looked to reassert themselves in the standings against last place UC Riverside at the Thunderdome on Saturday night.
Spirits were riding high after an emotional "Legend of the Dome" unveiling for Women's Volleyball great, Judy Bellomo, who holds the all-time single season kill record with 729, set in 1987. That emotion translated into a 2-0 set lead for UCSB, but the tides quickly changed, and Kathy Gregory's squad eventually fell in a dramatic fifth set to the Highlanders, 3-2, with game scores of 25-27, 15-25, 27-25, 25-19, 15-12. It was the first time in 27 meetings that UCSB had dropped a match to UC Riverside. With the loss, the Gauchos record stands at 11-9, with a 4-3 mark in Big West play.
The Gauchos were led by sophomore outside hitter Leah Sully, who turned in 13 kills and 15 digs for her 15th double-double in just 20 matches. Sully also led all players with four service aces. Senior middle blocker Lily Lopez also contributed 13 kills, while hitting a team high .542. Senior libero Chelsey Lowe finished with 28 digs, her highest total since racking up 33 digs against Cal State Fullerton on Sep. 24.
The Gauchos eked out a victory in a sloppy first game in which neither team hit over .180. Lopez and senior outside hitter Stacey Schmidt had four kills apiece to lead all players. At one point down 18-20, UCSB battled back and tied the score up at 25-25, before a UCR attacking error set up a game winning kill for Leah Sully.
The second set was all Gauchos, as Schmidt and Sully again teamed up to terrorize the Highlanders front line, both finishing with four kills for the set. UCSB took advantage of some shaky receiving in the game, recording four aces- two by Sully, and two by junior defensive specialist Erica Lau. With the Gauchos up 13-11, Sully and Lau served the Gauchos all the way to a 25-15 game win.
The Gauchos started the third game in impressive fashion, jumping out to a 4-0 lead. A timeout from UCR Heach Coach Ron Larsen and a substitution at libero (Jessica Moncayo was brought in for starter Megan Patterson) seemed to settle down the Highlanders, as they fought back and tied the score at 15-15. From there, the attacking duo of Amanda Vialpando and Shelby LeDuff took over the match. LeDuff had 10 of her 18 kills in the third game, while Vialpando recorded five of her match-high 19 kills in the frame.
The Gauchos were ultimately unable to stop the bleeding, dropping each of the final three games. The final game appeared as if it could have gone either way, but after switching sides halfway through the set, UCR refused to relent.
"The bottom line was that [UC] Riverside played better," said UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory, "we weren't good enough defensively. This loss hurts, but we've got two big games next weekend where we'll be looking to bounce back."
Even though the Gauchos have lost two straight matches, they are still tied with Cal Poly and Cal State Fullerton for second place in the conference with a 4-3 record.
UCSB hosts two pivotal conference matches next weekend, against Cal State Fulleton on Friday, Oct. 21, and against Long Beach State on Saturday, Oct. 22.