SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Still riding on a hot streak, Taylor Formico led the Gauchos to a closely contested victory over the UC Riverside Highlanders 3-1 (14-25, 23-25, 25-23, 23-25) to claim the team's third win in four games, all against conference opponents.
The Gauchos (12-12, 5-4) started strong in the first set but began to struggle against Riverside's mid-match surge, ultimately winning a thrilling fourth set in front of 315 fans in the Thunderdome. Formico had another thirty-plus dig match with thirty-two following her record breaking performance the previous night, extending her spectacular freshman season accolades.
In addition to Formico's defense, junior outside hitter Leah Sully picked up 18 digs while tallying 15 kills. Fellow junior Katey Thompson led the Gauchos in overall hitting percentage (.438), points (19), and kills recorded (15). Freshman Taylor Britton helped seal the win with 12 kills and .407 hitting percentage.
"We really grinded out a win tonight," said a hoarse Kathy Gregory. "We didn't want a repeat of last year, and we need to stay more mentally tough."
Gregory's voice was spent trying to rouse a team that risked spoiling a 2-0 lead to UC Riverside at home for the second consecutive year. Last year's five-set collapse was UCSB's first loss to the Highlanders in school history.
The Gauchos easily outmatched Riverside (5-17, 0-9) in the first set as the Highlanders could not capitalize on swings against UCSB's defense. Team leaders Amanda Vialpando and Ashley Cox managed a combined 36 kills off 114 attempts.
UCSB lost its rhythm going into the second and third sets, losing the latter before being willed by the crowd to complete the win in the fourth set. The Gauchos were assisted in the fourth set victory by Riverside's inconsistent attack. The Highlanders had just as many kills as they did attacking errors -- nine -- for a .000 hitting percentage in the decisive game.
UCSB remains mid-table in the crowded Big West conference with only nine games remaining in th regular season. Cal Poly comes to the Thunderdome next Saturday at 7:00pm for an important rivalry matchup between the two Central Coast rivals.
Tickets for that match -- and all five remaining home matches -- can be found here.