SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - In a match commemorating the 40th anniversary of Title IX, Taylor Formico and the Gauchos set a number of school records, but still could not find a way to victory against an extremely hot Cal St. Fullerton side, eventually falling 3-2 (25-17, 22-25, 27-25, 23-25, 15-12).
For the Gauchos (11-12, 4-4), it was the longest match of the season so far at two hours, thirty minutes. All that extra time allowed the Gauchos to record a number of rally-scoring era school records.
As a team, the Gauchos recorded 124 digs - the most in a single match in the rally-scoring era. Freshman libero Taylor Formico continued her stellar season with a 41 dig performance, which ties a school record for the most of all-time in a single match and sets a new one for the rally-scoring era. Their 229 swings as a team were the fifth-most in the rally scoring era.
Despite Formico's 41 digs, someone on the Gauchos needed to account for the other 83 team digs. Junior outside hitter Kara Sherrard had 26 digs -- a new career high -- while Leah Sully (22) and Ali Santi (17) weren't far behind.
In an exceptionally tight and dramatic match, the visiting Titans (11-10, 5-3) were able to claim victory due to a historic performance of their own. Reigning Big West Player of the Week Kayla Neto displayed her credentials to the 272 fans in attendance at the Thunderdome by picking up 35 kills on a whopping 99 swings. Both are the most allowed by the Gauchos in school history. Neto also picked up 20 digs and five blocks, dominating the Gauchos in all facets of the game. Libero Gabrielle Dewberry matched Formico for the majority of the match, finishing with 34 digs of her own.
The Titans have now won five matches in a row and are tied for second place in the Big West Conference with Long Beach State -- an amazing feat considering they went 0-3 out of the gate against conference opponents.
After a sluggish start by UCSB, the two teams really began to do battle in the second game. Over the middle three games, there were 28 ties and 13 lead changes between the two teams, highlighting how close the middle games really were.
The decisive fifth game started out well enough for the Gauchos, as they claimed the first two points and were tied later at 4-4. From there, Kayla Neto willed her team to victory, despite a right arm that was likely sore. She recorded kills on three of the next four points --she was responsible for exactly half of the team's 15 points for the set via her 7 kills and single block assist -- to give the Titans a comfortable path to victory.
"We weren't consistent enough over the course of the match," lamented UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory. "When you get to the fifth game, anything can happen."
"And 'anything' happened," she deadpanned.
That inconsistency manifested itself in sub-.100 team hitting percentages in the first and fifth sets, the two in which the Gauchos did not compete as closely. UCSB averaged a .189 clip for the middle three games while limiting Fullerton to a .144 percentage.
Freshman middle blocker Britton Taylor led the Gauchos in kills for the first part of the match. She ended the night with 13 kills and three blocks. Sully led the squad with 20 kills and also picked up a pair of vital aces.
Kara Sherrard had perhaps her strongest match of the season, recording a season-high 16 kills to go along with her aforementioned career high in digs. She also was one of UCSB's strongest passers on the night, and she didn't pick up a reception error for the third time in her last five appearances.
The Gauchos --who have a less than 24 hour turnaround -- will look to get back in the win column tomorrow night against UC Riverside. The match will begin at 7 p.m. in UCSB's Thunderdome.